Ground Rules & Distractions


Ground rules are essential for any meeting. It may be what makes the meeting a success or failure. As a Business Analyst we are constantly organizing and facilitating meetings of various sizes to progress through the SDM (System Design Methodology) for a project. It is important that all sponsors and participants of the project understand what to expect from the upcoming meetings to be organized. Ground rules are generally discussed during the kickoff meeting, documented, and then displayed moving forward.


Are ground rules needed for every meeting? Not necessarily. If it is a one-on-one meeting with someone you know, you have worked with in the past, and they know your facilitation methods; it’s a good chance ground rules won't be needed. Use a gut check and determine if ground rules need to be created prior to the meeting. If the meeting is with unfamiliar faces then an established set of ground rules will allow the meeting to progress smoothly without disrespecting each other's views on the topic.


The following subject points discuss why and how to establish a set of ground rules for meetings.


The Buy In

Prior to establishing the set of ground rules it is important to get Management buy in. Communication is needed between the Business Analyst and the Management to discuss the purpose of a set of ground rules. The support of the managers that are responsible for the project sponsors and participants will help in the event that there are rule violations. The managers can support you in a time of need when something needs to be escalated to them at some point during a project's life cycle. Make it clear to the managers that the ground rules will provide a structure to the meetings, encourage participation, and support the company core values.


Advancement in technology has aided the modern workplace with mobility, employee efficiency and collaboration, and increased security. People are working smarter, not harder than their previous counterparts. This is great for the employee as well as the employer. We can work remotely from the office setting in order to complete our work through videoconferencing or teleconferencing.


There are times, however, when technology may get in the way. Especially in an environment associated with a meeting.   We have all been in the position of a facilitator  and are attempting to actively engage the participants while the participants in the meeting are on their laptops performing tasks not associated with the meeting topic, on their cell phones browsing social media apps, or they are eying the lunch special at their favorite restaurant. Communication is a two way street and when participants are not actively listening then purpose of the meeting is lost.


To correct this issue the facilitator must set ground rules in advance of the meeting. The rule can be simple: Phones and laptops may be brought, but must remain off or closed unless needed. Ultimately, the facilitator and scribe should really be the only meeting attendees using devices during this time.


Safe Zones

How many times have you been in a meeting and arguments are occurring over a topic or a meeting participant has a highly negative opinion of an idea? People are often categorized as extroverts and introverts. Extroverts love meetings as it is a pathway for their voice to be heard and introverts dislike meetings because they are noisy and their ideas are often misunderstood or ignored. Creating a "Safe Zone" avoids one person domineering a meeting and allows for free flow thinking and idea generating.


The purpose of any meeting, but especially initial research sessions and requirement gathering sessions for projects is to project your thoughts and ideas to a group. The group in turn ask questions and more ideas are generated. Essentially brainstorming ideas and solutions together. In order to do this, however, the meeting must be a safe zone for ideas and all voices big or small. People must respect each other's ideas and opinions.  Clarifying questions are welcome, but judgmental questions are not allowed. Interruptions must be avoided when someone is speaking and actively listen to the speaker in order to fully comprehend  what is expressed by the speaker.

Staying On Topic and Be On Time

Time is valuable. Respect the meeting time and arrive to the meeting on time. I prefer to allow everyone to leave a meeting at least 5 minutes early to allow the participants time to get to their next meeting. If you arrive late to a meeting leaving early is no longer an option and in most cases the meeting has started without you. This causes disruption and valuable time is lost.


If you are the facilitator create an agenda and stick to the allotted times for the topics. Assign a time keeper in every meeting to keep the speaker on point to avoid stealing time from others or to make sure all topics are discussed.


Open It Up for Discussion


As the facilitator you set the ground rules, however, it is easier to enforce the rules when everyone agrees to do so. Open the rules up for discussion. This is an important step for reoccurring meetings, but may be necessary for a single meeting as well. It is probable that others may have their own rule they would like added or need clarification on the rules already defined. If they feel they have more of a buy in to the process it is much easier as the facilitator to hold everyone accountable.


Document and Display the Rules


Documenting the ground rules is important. It reminds everyone what the rules are. There may be times where meeting attendees will forget the ground rules and may need a place of reference. Documenting the ground rules can be on the agenda, in a central repository for meeting agendas and minutes, displayed on a white board in the room, in the email invitation, or even displayed on a giant sized Post-It note in the room. The rules should be visible to act as a reminder to those participating in the meeting.

Enforcing the Rules

As the facilitator you don't need to become a rules cop to enforce the rules. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and as everyone has agreed to the rules it is a group mentality to make sure the rules are not violated. As a facilitator you will need to be aware of when a violation is occurring and may need to intervene as needed. If the frequency of the violation is low ( once or twice during a meeting) then there may not be an issue, but if the frequency increases then enforcement must occur. The action taken may be as simple as restating the rules and reminding everyone of the "Safe Zone" or the frequency or distraction is so great a direct one-on-one discussion may be necessary with the person violating the rules. Private discussions may be difficult and be stressful, but remember it is important that everyone feel respected and safe to discuss opinions freely.


AuthorTom McIntire




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