David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Meeting Rules

post # 475 — December 12, 2007 — a Managing post

We all know meetings are a curse.

Here are some of the rules I would offer to help make them more productive.

  1. Do not call meetings when some other form of information sharing is possible.
  2. Since most people can read ten times faster than a presenter can speak, send material ahead.
  3. Meetings need to have concrete goals (a purpose for what must be accomplished), not just an agenda.
  4. Select speciifc start and stop times and stick to them
  5. Restrict attendance to only those who must be there
  6. Appoint a reporter at the beginning of the meeting, charged with recording the discussion, writing it up, and circulating the meeting notes within 24 hours


Those are just some of the rules I would offer. what meeting rules would you propose?


Steen Madsen said:

Your rules make sense, but you could add another one:

Any topic on the agenda must be relevant for your strategy or your company values

Most meetings are among managers. To create respect in the organisation that managers are really focused on the strategy and goals of the organisation or the chosen values of the organisation, you could from the top level issue a rule, that topics on any management meeting agenda at any level must be relevant for strategy or corporate values. Make a list of them. When somebody wants a topic on the agenda he or she must link it to the list. Then you don’t waste time on non strategic issues.

posted on December 12, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Juilo Sergio from Brazil offered these rules (sent in by email),

  1. · No phone calls are allowable during the meeting (no cells please)
  2. · No laptops browsing emails, MSN, etc.
  3. · No BlackBerries and other “berries”
  4. · “hydraulic” breaks every 2 hours
  5. · Provide enough water, coffee and cookies

posted on December 12, 2007

Ed Kless said:

First, I agree with Julio if the meeting is short in duration, but I think it is unrealistic to restrict computer and blackberry use in a longer session of, say, more than half a day. If the the meeting is a hour, than the no eletronics groundrule is a valid one.

I propose two other rules:

  1. As an enhancement to David’ rule 4 – begin the meeting when a quorum has assembled – one more than 50% of those scheduled to be in attendance, even if one of the missing people is the CEO. Waiting any longer is disrespectful to those who show up on time.
  2. Near the end of the meeting ask the reporter to read back to the group any decisions that were made or any tasks that were agreed to be accomplished. Patrick Lecioni says to ask the question “What exactly have we decided to do at this meeting?”

posted on December 12, 2007

Carl Isenburg said:

There are some great recommendations in the Effective Meeting Protocol at Manager Tools. (I’m not affiliated, just a fan!)

Mark’s recommendations are a bit rigid in my opinion, but I think the closer we get to what he suggests, the more useful our meetings will be.

posted on December 12, 2007

Lance said:

A meeting isn’t very useful without accountability.

Make assignments and set a deadline.

Don’t give two people the same assignment or they will just point at each other when it doesn’t happen.

Be sure to find out if assginments were completed by the deadline (and probably best in front of the same group of people).

posted on December 12, 2007

Shama Hyder said:


I’d like to add one more here to this list-

*Never Plan to Plan. Take Action or Delegate.*

posted on December 12, 2007

Scott Messinger said:

I agree that most meeting should have an agenda.

But sometimes there is the need for ‘no holds barred’ meeting where the purpose is just to figure out what the heck to do=, who needs to do it, and when it needs to be done.

Any suggestions for such meetings where the purpose is so fleeting and nebulous?

posted on December 12, 2007

David (Maister) said:

How about circulating, in advance, a list of questions to be addressed and inviting people to add items to the list. Then, when the meeting begins, you can take a vote on which are the most important / highest priority questions and start discussing them, in turn.

Anybody tried this?

posted on December 12, 2007

Andrew Chiu said:

I’d offer the following revision to David’s #6 – action items, combined with accountability (as Lance suggested). One should be able to tie action items to the goals of the meeting so that only goal-related next steps are taken…

posted on December 13, 2007

Gareth Garvey said:

Another technique I have found useful, is to go round quickly at the beginning of the meeting and ask people whether/why they need to be there. Do the same and the end of the meeting. Did they need to be there? Did they achieve their objectives?

If people only need to be there for one item on the agendaconsider splitting the meeting into its component parts.

posted on December 13, 2007

Susie Wee said:

Hold few enough meetings so that people actually ask for meetings! :)

posted on December 13, 2007

Ed Kless said:

And as Peter Drucker said, we must remember that “meetings are by definition a concession of deficient organization.”

We should not be disorganized about our disorganization.

posted on December 14, 2007

Shawn Callahan said:

The downside to most of the suggestions so far is that they all serve to increase the speed of actions (which is not always a good thing) and leave little time for mindfulness and making sense of what’s happening. I think we need to revisit the type of meeting we are proposing and have times when we meet slowly with the objective of helping people see new patterns emerging in the business.

posted on December 15, 2007

Dale Arseneault said:

I think most people find meetings are a bit like email – we see the value, but sometimes curse the reality. Who has not seen John Cleese in “Meetings, Bloody Meetings.”

Back to David’s original question. What meeting rules would I propose? Well, the challenge there is that not all meetings are created equal, which is what I think Shawn is getting at – to generalize a few, learning/action learning, innovation, decision making, planning (either a real plan, or planning how to approach a problem), problem solving, cause analysis, situation analysis, ideation / visioning etc.

From my perspective, a group of people who get together without some form of structure are having a conversation, not a meeting. Conversations are important, in particular as vehicles to enable people to casually table, or get used to, new ideas, or to become more comfortable with the realm of the possible or a change about to take place.

Meetings, which do include conversation, should have a purpose, outcome(s) and structure in the form of an agenda to be productive. Participants need a clear understanding of these, plus know their role and responsibility in the meeting, roles and responsibilities of others, and what they need to do to prepare. That’s the basics.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to take the basic meeting form template in Outlook, or whichever tool you’re using, and add mandatory fields like purpose, objectives, agenda, preparation, participant roles and responsibilities? That way no meeting could be booked without at least the minimum amount of forethought.

If we take things one step further for a moment, and look at what I think is a key failing of even good meeting organizers – not thinking beyond the agenda. Something that is rarely thought of is HOW the agenda item will be tackled.. the specific process. Classic example is an agenda item that has the word “Decision.” Rarely do meeting organizers make explicit the process, as appropriate, to identify the decision to be made, the decision process, or the decision owner.

So, to summarize – the MOST IMPORTANT RULE, maybe the only one is “We will respect each other and ourselves.”

Meeting organizers will respect participants by creating an environment that maximizes participation and contributions, and minimizes unnecessary negative impact on workloads – by being clear and explicit about outcomes, objectives, roles, responsibilties, preparation required, meeting structure and underlying process.

All meeting participants will respect each other by:

  • “being there” – being cognitively present in the meeting and focused on contributing to outcomes, and yes, that means turning off cell phones and Blackberry’s .. perhaps every meeting room / meeting organizer needs one of these – http://www.phonejammer.com/cell-phone-jammer/p2jbz-r.asp
  • tabling all relevant information to enable everyone to make fully informed choices and decisions
  • listing to others’ opinions and ideas for value, and not just criticism – balencing advocacy with inquiry
  • being productively candid, and discussing the “undiscussable”

posted on December 21, 2007

George Dinwiddie said:

Steve Smith wrote about the futility of banning blackberries, recently.

posted on December 22, 2007

360 Degree Feedback said:

Thanks for the short and sweet post about meetings. There is a growing trend towards not taking meeting minutes because often times the information is not used after it is created. So why create it? Issue logs are finding their way in to replace meeting minutes because it’s the issues that come out of a meeting which must be followed up on and resolved in the future.

I recommend recording an audio version of the meeting (negating the need to write minutes) and compile and manage an issues log instead!

posted on December 29, 2007

Stuart Storr said:

I am a strong advocate of banning all use of email, mobile phones, Blackberries and other communication devices. This applies to the boss as well as the most junior attendee. If the meeting is justified, then all attendees should be focussed on the meeting and not allow themselves to be distracted. A previous commentator talked about respect for other attendees – use of the above communications devices shows a lack of respect. If it needs to be a long meeting make sure you plan for plenty of email / phone call breaks. If an individual attendee feels that he doesn’t need to focus on a particular agenda item, then he shouldn’t be in the meeting.

And confirm at the start of the meeting whether all attendees are ok to stay until the planned finish time. There’s nothing more disrespectful than walking out of a meeting before the end with no prior warning. It’s about respect and behaviour again.

posted on January 10, 2008

David Wheeler said:

These are meeting rules I have assembled after working for various companies with bad meeting habits:

  1. All meetings will have a timed agenda
  2. Distribute the agenda to all participants at least 24 hours before the meeting
  3. All meetings will start on time and end on time
  4. All cell phones off or on vibrate
  5. Come prepared to address the agenda topics
  6. If you can’t be there, send an alternate
  7. One speaker at a time
  8. Provide a short handout to support major agenda items
  9. Summarize action items and assign responsible individuals and due dates
  10. Each meeting will have a timekeeper and a scribe. The timekeeper’s role is to watch the time spent on each topic against the agenda time and remind the group when the allotted time is expiring.
  11. If time expires on a topic, assign a group to finish it “off-line” and report pack to the group, then move on to the next Agenda item.
  12. The scribe will take detailed notes about items discussed, particularly actions items, responsibility assignments and due dates.
  13. At the end of each meeting, review the action items, assignments and due dates adjourning.
  14. At the beginning of the next meeting, review the action items from the prior meeting to assure they have been completed or are in progress.

You will be amazed at how efficient your meetings become if you stick to these rules.

posted on March 13, 2008

ED YOUNG said:


posted on May 26, 2008

Ed Kless said:

From one Ed to another – Please use proper case in blog posts. All capitals is considered to be shouting. It is rude (shows a lack of manners) and out of order.

posted on May 27, 2008

Ed Young said:

Sorry to have offended you. I tend to type in caps because I am not a typist & find it much easier reading. I was a draftsman for 24 years. We letter in caps because it is easy to read.

As far as rude, I think speaking out of order & interupting is rude. Do you? I am a bit offended that you chose to comment on my typing rather than my comment.


posted on May 27, 2008

Ed Kless said:

Of course, I agree… mostly.

It depends on the type of meeting. Some meetings are brainstorming events where somes a cacophony makes for good creative destruction, but in most cases one-at-a-time is best.

If you are finding this to be a problem in your meeting, perhaps you should make the suggestion of using a “talking stick.” –> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_stick

As far as my commenting on your typing. I was trying to be helpful, sadly tone is not conveyed in posts, my apologies. However, based on your post I would guess that your intention was not to scream, so I wanted to alert you to this netiquette. For more infomation, see –> http://www.netmanners.com/courtesy1.html

posted on May 27, 2008