How many times have you wished that certain people would just behave so you could run more effective and efficient meetings? The way to enlist people's best behavior is to get all participants to agree on the ground rules.

Set the Terms Some common rules for meetings might be that they start and end on time, that the discussion stay focused on relevant topics, and that all viewpoints be considered and respected. Another aspect to consider is meeting etiquette, which may include, for example, an agreements that the group allow one conversation at a time and that people turn off cellphones and pagers. It's also worth agreeing up front that all meetings should have an agenda and a clearly stated objective.

Get Everyone to Buy In Make your meeting terms clear and observable. You can observe people being on time, but you can't observe them "having a good attitude"--that's too subjective. All agreements must also be entered into freely and remain open to renegotiation.

To create agreements for your meeting:

* Think of one or more guidelines that would serve the group.

* Propose them to the group by starting with the words, "I'd like us to agree to ..."

* Encourage the group to discuss your proposals so that everyone understands them--but don't permit evaluation or counterproposals yet.

* Ask for a vote on your proposal. A simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down will do. If the vote is not unanimous, ask those who voted "nay" what it would take to make the proposal work for them. Listen to their answers, modify your proposal accordingly, and then take another vote.

* Negotiate until you reach unanimous agreement or withdraw your proposal.

* Post the agreements in a visible place in your meeting room so that everyone will be reminded of them.

Reinforce the Rules A two- to three-minute evaluation at the end of every meeting is the best way to consider other areas where you might need to create rules. Getting into this practice also helps you tap into the intelligence of your team and gets them involved. Ask them two questions about the meeting: What do people want to keep doing, and what do they want to change or stop? Write down their comments on a flip chart or whiteboard. Then, commit to preserving what worked and to creating new ground rules around what didn't.

When rules are broken, it is usually done out of neglect rather than intent. When you notice participants actively upholding agreements, take the time to recognize them and express your appreciation. When they don't, remind them of the rules.

Some teams have fun with the reminders by making a game-show "BEEP" sound whenever an agreement is violated. Whatever you do, be gentle with your reminders, because it could be you who slips up the next time!

Michael Begeman is manager of the 3M Meeting Network ( He can be reached at

1. Make peoples' expectations explicit--"I wish others would speak more supportively" is an example of what one participant may want. Make such wishes known and have your team agree to honor them.

2. Make your meeting terms clear and observable--You can observe people being on time, but you can't observe them "having a good attitude."

3. Evaluate what worked and what didn't at the end of every meeting--Then commit to creating new ground rules. Make sure they continue to be observed by recognizing them in action.