Monday Mornings with Madison

Meeting Etiquette: Rules of the Road

Meetings cost organizations a lot of money.  Consider the hourly rate (wages plus benefits) of each person at the meeting.  Then add in the expense of bringing everyone together, if some of the participants are at different locations.  It can add up.   Yet, in all likelihood, most employees will attend dozens or hundreds of meetings throughout their careers.  And most employees loathe attending meetings.  That’s because meetings take up valuable time that a person could use to “get their work done.”  To add insult to injury, not only do meetings eat away at productivity, they often feel like a waste of time. That’s because so many meetings veer off topic, devolve into entire conversations that have no place in the meeting, have numerous interruptions, and/or drag on way past their scheduled time, resulting in the need for another meeting.

Notwithstanding, meetings cannot be avoided and are surely not going to disappear from the business or professional world any time soon.  There is no telling the boss “this is not the highest and best use of my time.”  So how does an organization deal with the problems and pitfalls of meetings and ensure that meeting results warrant the cost?  There are a number of steps that can ensure meetings are productive and focused … on point and on time!  Here’s how.

Rules of the Road

It helps to think of a meeting like a road trip.  The participants are trying to get from point A to point B.  There should be a clear purpose to the meeting.   There is often information that needs to be shared, so there is usually at least one presenter giving information to others.  There are questions that need to be asked and answered, so there is generally interaction amongst the participants.   There may be problems that need to be solved, so there may be brainstorming of ideas by the attendees in the search of creative solutions.   And, since the meeting is a journey, it helps to know what the rules of the road are to ensure that the group gets from point A to point B in the most efficient and effective way possible.  For that reason, it is a good idea to actually have a set of documented rules that all members of the group know.

Meeting rules fall into three types:

  • Etiquette Rules – These rules describe what is considered good etiquette for a particular organization.  These are generally unchanging because they reflect the company’s expectations.
  • Meeting Function Rules – These are rules that describe how the meeting will function.  These rules determine how the meeting will function.
  • General Meeting Rules for Leaders – These rules govern how the leader will lead the meeting, and how the participants will behave.

Etiquette Rules

Etiquette is in the eye of the beholder.  What one company deems rude behavior may be perfectly acceptable somewhere else.   That said, there are some general etiquette rules that are widely accepted.  All participants should try to:

  • Prepare well for the meeting.  Attendees should read all documents distributed before the meeting.  This helps expedite the meeting.
  • Be on time.  While there are unforeseen situations that might be unavoidable, generally people who are scheduled for a meeting should do everything possible to be on time.
  • Start the meeting on time.  If everyone attending shows up on time, there is no reason for the meeting to start late.   When meetings don’t run on time, every participant’s schedule is unfairly affected.  This could cause delays or create crises if those employees have other deadlines.
  • End the meeting on time.  Everyone has things to do.  Having a meeting run way longer than the allotted time is unfair to everyone.  The meeting presenter should tell those presenting exactly how much time they will have to go over information so that the presentation is not cut short.
  • Switch off all mobile phones.  Some companies go so far as to ban laptops, iPhones and other media devices to ensure people are giving the presenter their undivided attention.  That is considered a sign of respect.
  • No interrupting others even if you strongly disagree with their comments.  Stopping a presenter’s delivery of information is not just bad manners, but keeps them from being able to get points across in a way that is clear.
  • Listen to all contributions.  Just the way someone giving a presentation wants to be heard, those receiving information should give their full, undivided attention.
  • Personal criticism is not permitted.  It is never okay to belittle or mock a person in front of others.  Respect is a basic tenet of any professional exchange.
  • Keep the meeting focused on the agenda and the discussion topic.  A meeting agenda should be very clear and should detail exactly what is the objective of the meeting.  Open ended meetings with broad agenda topics will inevitably veer off course, waste time and frustrate everyone.

Meeting Function Rules

These rules help guide how the meeting will function.

  • Who will be leading the meeting?
  • How long it will take?
  • Who is attending?
  • Where it will be held?
  • Who is setting the agenda?
  • How are decisions going to be made?
  • Is someone keeping minutes?
  • When will minutes be distributed?
  • How will conflicts be handled?

Good Meeting Etiquette Rules for Leaders

This final set of meeting rules are things a good leader should do to ensure the success of the meeting.

  • Encourage all attendees to contribute to the discussion.
  • Enforce the meeting rules.
  • Encourage feedback from all members on the effectiveness of the meeting.
  • Be a leader, show interest in other people’s contributions and appreciation for their contributions.
  • Summarize the decisions made or progress made at the end of each discussion.

While meetings may feel like a waste of time to employees, those are that are handled correctly can be worthwhile.  When structured properly, meetings can be a prolific time for organizational teams to increase communication, solve problems, innovate, plan and grow.

Quote of the Week

“When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.”
Justin Rosenstein



© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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