Different goals require different types of meetings, and different styles of communication. To ensure your meeting is an effective use of everyone’s time and is highly productive, the first step is to be clear on the meeting purpose and the protocols that apply.
Five meeting types
Informational: The purpose is to exchange information and reach agreements. For protocols, both an agenda and minutes are optional. Most meetings are actually informational in nature. Beware, however, of any discussion that leads to problem-solving without adequate inquiry or input.
Problem Solving: The purpose is to define solutions to problems and reach agreements. Protocols require an agenda and minutes. These meetings require active input from multiple points of view and active participation of all relevant players.
Brainstorming: The purpose is to define objectives, generate options, and reach agreements. Protocols require an agenda and minutes. Although related to problem-solving, brainstorming considers things that will happen or could happen. Problem-solving addresses only things that have already happened.
Performance Review: The purpose is to review individual or group performance and reach agreements. This is a special type of meeting with a protocol for both an agenda and minutes. All the data is compiled in advance so that the meeting can be spent comparing relevant perspectives, both praiseworthy and not.
Strategic: The purpose is to define issues, describe scenarios, set goals and reach agreements. Protocols require an agenda, ground rules, and minutes. This type of meeting requires the interplay of various perspectives about the consequences of actions on the future of the organization. In a strategic conversation, every perspective has value.
Meetings with ground rules have a high success rate and can be thought of as “guardrails” that keep conversations on track and safely home. Setting ground rules requires discussion and agreement of the proposed rules at the outset of the meeting. The ground rules are designed around aspects of communication such as agreement on the meaning of words, a focus on issues and not people, inquiry into views and reasoning and putting all issues on the table.
The rules will be broken
Expect to have ground rules broken as we are typically more comfortable advocating our positions than defending them. The process also requires simultaneous monitoring to determine if there is missing data or assumptions that need to be clarified. The idea here is to engage in a process for the benefit of the group that builds understanding rather than limiting it. Over time and with practice, people will come to regard the ground rules as key success factors of successful communication and principles of conduct rather than rules.