Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Value of Group Norms

“Avoid meetings, if you can…they are a waste of time.” 

I’ve heard some prominent leaders say this. Some people are part of the school of thought that meetings have little value, failing to produce anything significant. My experience with meetings is that they are a key factor of success over my years of leadership. My pattern as a leader has always been to clearly establish a purpose for meetings and make sure initiatives are developed before we adjourn. Then, I inspect what I expect over the coming weeks and months.

When I became leader of the current team I serve with, it became clear we would need some new guidelines to have successful meetings and make the reaching of our goals a reality.   I was thankful when Joy Conley, one of our team members, shared the idea of  "Group Norms" with us. Group Norms are the four rules of every meeting that Joy utilizes in her teacher meetings at the public school where she serves a teacher trainer. We tried Group Norms and have never looked back. The norms provide excellent boundaries for every meeting that serve to keep us on track for success.

At the beginning of each and every meeting, the first item on the agenda is to remind everyone of the group norms. I ask Joy to take care of this and she does a great job. New members are educated about our norms from their first meeting, and veteran leaders receive a reminder.

The following are our Group Norms, and why each one is valuable.

No cell phones

Ever attended a meeting where everyone is tapping away at their phones while people are talking, texting and surfing? What about people who step out to take phone calls? These interruptions really affect the team focus – not to mention it’s disrespectful. We have a no cell phone rule during the meeting.  I believe it’s important wherever I am to be “all there.”  Cell phones have made it so much harder to do this, but good leaders are relentless in minimizing distractions to maximize productivity. I've observed some leaders (who do not serve on my team) who insist on keeping their phones on and taking calls during meetings - as if to give the impression that they are too important or in demand to let the call go to voicemail. Quite frankly that is a load of prideful hogwash. Leaders need to show the way by example, so I make sure my phone is on silent and tucked away during the meeting. I can't expect my team to do this if I don't.

Leading one of our team meetings
No hogs/no logs

Ever been in a meeting where one or two team members hog the entire conversation? Or a meeting where other team members sit there like bumps on a log looking like they wish they didn’t have to be there? Either extreme is annoying. That’s why we have a rule – no one hogging the conversation. We are careful that no one goes in a direction that is irrelevant to the pre-set agenda, and also watchful that no member is sitting there, uninvolved.  Everyone on the team needs to be fully engaged in the dialogue at hand. Each teammate's voice is valuable and we want it to be heard.

No one attending the meeting except team members

Ever been in a meeting where somebody who is not on the team drops in and affects things in some negative way? Yup. Us too. So, we’re not going to have that happen anymore. As much as we love the folks in our lives who aren't member of our team, we do not welcome them into our meeting. Serving on a team is a an honor, therefore, attending the meeting is not a privilege given to anyone but members. It’s not appropriate for those who aren't on the team to drop by and particularly for them to hijack the meeting in some way.  This rule applies to anyone not officially on our team, with the only exception being if I have invited a guest speaker to address us in the meeting on some topic. 

There are those on our team who are coming from across the state, making a three to five hour trip to get to the meeting. Prior to me becoming director, there were times leaders would have someone who wasn't on the team who traveled with them. Some may have been unable to drive for medical reasons, or they just wanted company on the trip. Sometimes those who accompanied a team member on a trip would be in our meetings and give their opinion on our items of business. This was not always a positive thing. When I became the director, I immediately put a stop to that and let everyone know if spouse or friend accompanied them to the meeting, they would need to find a Starbucks, a mall or another place to spend time during our meeting. This may seem unnecessary or even unkind, however once you have had the experience of a person attending your meeting who is not actually on the team take the meeting in an undesired direction, you will realize the value of this group norm. 

Our winning team
 No sidebar conversations

Ever been in a meeting where a few team members are in their own world having sidebar conversations, even about the topic at hand? Not only does it cause unnecessary noise in the room, it’s also distracting and disrespectful. Our guideline is that instead of sidebar conversations we expect our team members to wait their turn and share their idea or thought with the entire group. And, if the sidebar is about something  unrelated to the agenda, we expect them to wait until after the meeting to talk about it. 

The value of guidelines

"Do adults really need guidelines like this?" you may wonder. It depends on how successful you want to be. Getting off topic is a common problem in meetings and if the leader doesn't step up to gently steer things back on course, meetings can end up being a waste of time. 

We love our Group Norms. None of our team members appear to dislike them and many remark that they have utilized them for other groups that they lead. Try Group Norms with your team…you may find yourself accomplishing a whole lot more.


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