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Advance Your Meeting Conversation with Norms

You might be thinking: What the heck are norms?! We’re so glad you asked. The official definition states that norms are standards of behavior a team expects of its members. What that means in practice is that norms are the ground rules for how a team collaborates. By explicitly stating norms, every member of the group will understand how to act (and interact) with others. They also provide a standard against which members can give each other feedback.

Norms are useful in a variety of collaborative settings, including meetings. Because not all situations require the same behaviors, it is useful to establish ground rules based on the type of discussion or meeting. Clear meeting norms will align the participants’ expectations and guide the actions of team members so you can have a more productive discussion.

General Meeting Norms

Some norms refer to processes, preparation and communication practices which can apply to any meeting. Below is a list of meeting norms we’ve collected over the years based on our experience facilitating and attending meetings. As you review them, consider which ones might enhance your team culture.

Process Norms:

  • We will respect everyone’s time by starting and ending on time.

  • Only one conversation at one time. Refrain from side-talk.

  • Capture off topic items in a ‘backburner’ and agree to discuss them later at a more appropriate time.

  • Be present with the people you are meeting with. Put away phones and other devices during the meeting.

  • Take bio breaks as needed. (Good for long meetings.)

  • Everyone is responsible for helping to stay on topic. Speak up if you feel like we’re getting off track.

  • Challenge past assumptions and sacred cows.

  • Address conflict head on.

  • Look ahead to positive action, not back on shoulda, woulda, coulda.

  • Aim for GETGO - good enough to go, not perfection.

  • Everyone is responsible for upholding the norms. Acknowledge if you notice we are not doing so.

Preparation Norms:

  • Be prepared and come ready to engage. Read the agenda and do any prework ahead of time.

  • Come empowered to make commitments for your area or function.

  • Put aside other topics and work so you are ready to focus on the discussion at hand.

  • Meeting material and agenda should be sent 24 hours before a meeting.

Communication Norms:

  • Ask questions for clarification to help avoid making assumptions.

  • Make sure everyone's voice is heard.

  • Balance your participation - speak and listen.

  • Listen actively to teammates without interrupting others.

  • Clarify when you are advocating vs offering an idea.

  • Say it now, in the room. Avoid waiting till later to raise an issue.

  • All voices count. All opinions are valid, but offer reasoning behind your thinking.

Norms for Specific Types of Meeting Conversation

There are many types of conversations that happen during a meeting. Every conversation will benefit from selecting norms that specifically relate to that type of discussion. Consider, for example, how a meeting might go differently if a brainstorm session has the norm “all ideas are good ideas” compared to “keep our resource constraints in mind.”

Brainstorming Norms

  • All ideas are good ideas.

  • Build on the ideas of others. Use "Yes, and…"; avoid "No, but…"

  • Defer judgment of ideas during brainstorming.

  • Keep resource constraints in mind.

Staff Meeting / Check-in Norms

  • Be concise and to the point.

  • Be open to feedback.

  • Share only new information, not a repeat of old information.

  • Be sure your information is accurate.

  • Acknowledge when you don’t have an answer but will provide it after the meeting.

  • Share celebrations and challenges alike.

Decision-making Norms

  • We will use [consensus, consultative, majority rule, voting] as our decision making process.

  • Each person is responsible for ensuring they understand the options and arguments before making the decision.

  • Be willing to support a team consensus even if you initially do not agree with it.

  • Do not push you ideas on the team after a decision has been made.

  • Acknowledge when you are playing “devil’s advocate” to help test a decision or idea.

  • Separate your own personal feelings from what’s best for the team / organization.

Norms for Virtual Meetings

Virtual teams have additional layers of complexity because everyone is not in the same room. Consider using norms that address the common behavioral challenges with virtual meetings.

  • Do not multi-task (do other work) during the meeting.

  • Use the mute button at your site to prevent the transmission of background noise.

  • Speak up to get attention if you have something to say.

  • Turn on your video whenever possible.

  • Follow an organized line up to ensure each person has a chance to respond.

Tips for How to Use Norms at Your Meetings

Share Norms along with Agenda

Norms are an easy way to introduce desired behaviors to your team. Start by adding them to your meeting agenda, so everyone has time to review them prior to the meeting. During your first few meetings with norms, it is useful to read them aloud and ask if anyone has questions or additional norms to add prior to moving into the first agenda item.

Use Different Approaches to Reinforce the Norms

It is important to follow through on your norms. Ask that every person help identify when a norm is being violated. Role model this behavior by pointing to the norm and gently reminding a participant if he or she is not following it. Visual cues can be especially useful for this purpose. Writing the norms on a board or projecting them on the screen will continually remind participants to check their own behavior.