If you want your team to be effec­tive, you need meeting ground rules — and you need agree­ment about how to use them. Many teams that have ground rules don’t regu­larly use them. But having rules in place that you consis­tently enforce can signif­i­cantly improve how your team solves prob­lems and makes deci­sions.

There are different types of ground rules. Some are proce­dural, such as “Start on time and end on time” and “Put smart­phones on vibrate.” Proce­dural ground rules are useful but don’t help your team create produc­tive behavior beyond, say, everyone being on time and having their smart­phones on vibrate.

Other ground rules are abstract, such as “Treat everyone with respect” and “Be construc­tive.” These rules focus on a desir­able outcome but don’t iden­tify the specific behav­iors that are respectful or construc­tive. As a result, abstract rules create prob­lems if group members have different ideas about how to act respect­fully. For some group members, acting respect­fully means not raising any concerns about indi­vidual members in the group; for other members it may mean the oppo­site.

Behav­ioral ground rules are more useful. They describe specific actions that team members should take to act effec­tively. Exam­ples of behav­ioral ground rules include “make state­ments and ask genuine ques­tions” and “explain your reasoning and intent.” · Go to Eight ground rules for great meet­ings →