An Alternative to Using Ground Rules for Meeting

May 13, 2015

Try this at your next team meeting. Rather than having a standard conversation about ground rules, try using this question instead.

What could you do (or not do) today that would make you really proud of yourself?

I was working with a team recently: a leadership team of a large department. It was an important session where we would be talking about sensitive issues, so I was starting out the day with my typical approach to ground rules. I divided a flip chart page in half vertically and asked participants to fill the left side with things they “will do” to make the session productive and things they “won’t do” that would detract from the quality of the session.

The participants hit on the important messages about listening, about being transparent, and being present. They also captured the common de-railers: interrupting, getting distracted, and judging. It was a pretty matter-of-fact conversation, with little investment or intensity.

None of the lovely, sterile ground rules conversation was getting to the root of the issue I knew was the elephant in the room. They were a group of people who weren’t proud of the way they had been behaving.

Not only could they not look at themselves in the mirror, they didn’t feel they could look at the members of the department and feel confident that they were behaving like the leadership team the group deserved.

And so, in the spur of the moment, I changed the question. Instead of the relatively innocuous productive/unproductive behaviors approach, I switched to the more personal, emotionally laden question: What could you do today that would make you proud of yourself?

That caused each person to reflect on his or her own issues. For some, the dial needed to be turned up “I would be proud of myself if I voiced the concerns that I have been keeping to myself.” Others needed to turn it down: “I would be proud of myself if I waited to express my opinion until others have weighed in.” For some who had been part of past dysfunction, it was “I would be proud of myself if I let go of what happened in the past.”

The exercise required reflection and self-awareness. It required courage for each person to share the behaviors they aspired to and therefore to expose what they weren’t proud of. And it required strong self-management to do the things that they committed to.

And they did it all.

The relief in the room at the end of the day was palpable. They raised the bar and went sailing over it. They felt, deservedly, amazing. (Well, to be fair, exhausted and amazing!)

How would it transform an important meeting if you replaced the staid, safe, predictable ground rules conversation with “what would make you proud of yourself?” Give it a try and let me know.

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