Functional Meeting Participation


A high point in my growth as a leader was the opportunity to run board meetings. I developed some highly effective facilitation strategies in my corporate position as a member of a companywide Advisory Council. Our group represented staff across the country and my role was to lead employee action committees representing a site of 2000.

From this experience, I recognized the challenge of scheduling all participants on one date and the importance of making the most of our time together. The meetings were dynamic with vigorous idea flow and diverse points of view. As a meeting chair, I employed three very simple meeting rules that harnessed the power of collaboration. I’m not talking about standard ground rules such as “start and end on time” or “no idea’s a bad idea”. Those are great and we used them too, but what I am about to share goes more to the heart of how people behave under stress. I recommend setting up the following expectations in advance to maintain control of a powerful group who may later be in the heat of passionate debate.

Meeting Rules of Engagement

  • Positive
  • Action Oriented
  • Respectful

At the beginning of each meeting, I suggest you announce the three rules of engagement listed above and ask if everyone agrees to follow them. Since participants usually intend to be positive, action-oriented and respectful during the meeting, this is a simple request that you can invite every person to utilize and enforce.

How it Works

When the going gets tough, secondary or stress related behavior can crop up. While it’s not usually anyone’s conscious intention to speak in the negative, it inevitably occurs. For example, managing a zero-based budget or financial constraints causes common concerns such as:

  1. What if we can’t pay our bills?
  2. What if we don’t get enough members to attend the next event?
  3. What if our organization doesn’t survive?


While these are all valid questions, discussion about worst-case scenarios doesn’t lead the group to plan for success. When the pledge to the rules of engagement is made up front, there will be no surprise when members are asked to reframe negative questions into positive suggestions. Here is what that sounds like.

  1. These bills are due in the next 30 days. Here is what we need to pay them.
  2. We need 25 members at the next event to make enough money to pay our bills. Let’s brainstorm ideas to meet that attendance goal.
  3. I’m committed to this organization’s success and here is what I intend to do.

Wow, what a difference. It works well and plays right into the next strategy.

Action Oriented

This ground rule is very beneficial on those occasions when an attendee is having a bad day and uses the meeting as their venting session. Too much discussion on one topic without progress is counterproductive when the group has important business to conduct in a limited time. Following our rules of engagement, any member of the team has the right to ask this question, “What action are you proposing to address this issue?” This not only takes a lot of pressure off the leader, it empowers the entire membership to take an active role in having the group successfully meet the goals set out in the agenda. One of the validating outcomes of this approach is to create more time so all attendees to get a chance to be heard. This is particularly helpful in creating a comfortable environment for quiet people, who rarely speak up, to participate and that is further supported by the following ground rule.


Have you ever witnessed an exchange in which decorum flies out the window and a member becomes insulting towards an idea or person? This behavior can completely shut down productivity and alienate contributors. That is why it is important to agree on the rules of engagement right at the outset. A gentle reminder to the speaker such as, “Do you feel you’re being respectful in your communication right now?” can immediately shift the mood and restore the confidence of the entire group that all opinions and members will be valued.

Please feel free to use these simple yet powerful rules of engagement for your next group meeting. Whether you are the leader or you recommend adopting these techniques to the leader or the group, I believe you will find your time better spent and outcomes maximized. There is real power in setting expectations up front and then engaging all parties in the accountability of meeting them. I hope these rules gets you started on that path and if you need help, consider my services to help you gain control of meetings.

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