Ground rules are are a critical part of any meeting; however, they become even more critical when the meeting is conducted via a conference call. Some call ground rules a code of norms. They are the guiding principles that will assist the participants of the conference call with interacting in a polite, and effective manner. There are a few must have core requirements for any conference.
1. Start on time. All meetings should be timely. Any meeting that is allowed to languish at the beginning sets an unfortunate precedent. Start the meeting on time no matter who is missing from attendance. An important aspect to the start on time rule is that is risky to stop and debrief anyone who joins late; otherwise you will defeat the purpose of the rule. Once attendees know that the conference call will always start on time, they will adjust their schedules accordingly.
2. Have an agenda. Some may wonder if this really is a round rule, but it is! Meetings without agendas flounder. They tend not to get anything done other than creating process for its own sake. Have an agenda and articulate it during the early stages of the meeting.
3. Only one person speaks at any given moment. Conference calls are confusing to listen to without folks trying to talk over each other. Participants may have to practice their listening skills to know when someone is really finished with his part of the conversation.
4. Actively listen. Instead of planning what you are going to say or how you are going to respond to something someone else said, try to intently listen to what other participants are saying on the conference call. Take notes and ask clarifying questions. As other attendees notice your attentiveness, they may match it when it is your turn at the table.
5. Each person should be allowed to vocalize their role during discussions. Another way to think about it is that each person should be an active participant in the dialogue for the conference call. If allowed, some of the less vocal people on the conference call can hide behind the anonymity of the format. Ensure everyone is contributing to the conversation.
6. Decide up front how decisions will be made. It is critical to decide this in advance when everyone is still calm and focused. In some businesses the ultimate authority will make the decision. If the group is allowed to make a decision, determine if it will be simple majority rule, consensus, or something else. But do make a decision prior to the time when the dialogue get fired up and not everyone is in agreement.
7. Do what you say you are going to do. Often when individuals are carrying out a conference via telephone, they will commit to tasks without thinking it all the way through. This ground rule seeks to ensure accountability among participants that what they commit and agree to do, they can be counted upon to do so within the given timeframe. This also means that it would be a bad idea to assign a task to a person who is not present on the call to accept the assignment. If you need that person to be the one to do the assignment, ask after the meeting to be sure they can commit to it.
8. Respect each other and do not individually attack another invitee. In a perfect world, respect would come naturally; however, sometimes people need to be reminded. Additionally, because the phone offers some sense of distance and anonymity, attendees may feel that they can say things they would never say to someone in person. It is important to respect the other attendees enough to listen to what they have to say with an open mind and not pass judgment during the time they have the floor. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them, it just means to be polite and remain respectful at all times.
With these ground rules, or guiding principles, in place, your meetings can be more effective and efficient. Participant morale should increase as well as participation by all attendees.