9 Best Meeting Ground Rules for Facilitators You Should Know

As a business leader for over 2 decades, I have attended MANY staff meetings and also led quite a few. Some were great, but many were not, so in my quest to improve mine, I started to look into meeting ground rules for facilitators to see how I could improve mine.

Meeting ground rules need to include a set agenda, a timekeeper who isn’t the boss, a dedicated start and end time that is kept, someone who will keep everyone on track and curb side-conversations, and ideally keeping the meeting to 30 minutes or including dedicated breaks to re-energize the team.

Have you ever sat through a staff meeting wondering why you were there?  Did it feel like a waste of your time? Was it as exciting as watching paint dry?

If you are in a career job, the answer is almost assuredly yes to those questions. But there IS a better way! I was a leader at Whole Foods Market for 20+ years, and have led or attended hundreds of staff meetings.

Almost businesses have meetings.

Why?  Because they think that’s how they are supposed to run their business.

We just accept it and don’t question it.  Most leaders don’t even research meeting ground rules for facilitators.

So in this post, we’re taking a hard look at business meetings.

We’ll examine why most don’t work, but more importantly, we’ll examine the top meeting ground rules for facilitators so that your next meeting will be a hit with your employees and actually accomplish something.

Middle Class Dad meeting ground rules for facilitators boring meeting with a table full of adults all looking at a woman in a grey suit speaking with the title BORED MEETING

Why are ground rules important?

Meetings are designed to impart information to groups of people.

In some cases, the top leaders want feedback or buy-in from the people attending.  Other meetings it’s simply about passing on policy changes, etc. 

Occasionally they are more brainstorming sessions where lots of ideas get bounced around the room.

If you consider the goal and how many get executed, you can see why in most cases, meetings are horribly inefficient. They are not the most productive way of accomplishing the mission.

So it’s vitally important we learn meeting ground rules for facilitators.

Wolf Management Consultants conducted a study on effective meetings guidelines.  They found that:

  1. Meetings cost working professionals up 31 hours per month
  2. 91% of attendees admit to daydreaming during meetings
  3. 73% admit to working on unrelated items during meetings
  4. 39% admit to dozing off during meetings

So you can easily see why the average work meeting is ineffective.

What are the different types of meetings?

I’ve spent most of my adult life attending meetings.

In my former life as a GM for Whole Foods Market, we had weekly meetings with department heads.  Department heads had monthly meetings with their own teams.

We also had monthly store meetings with all the employees of that store (often 150+). 

Then we had quarterly regional leadership meetings.  Lastly, we had irregular national meetings; costly affairs where all top leaders from around the globe were flown somewhere for a 3 or 4-day gathering.

I’ve run a number of these meetings.  Many were run by people who had no clue about meeting ground rules for facilitators, as it wasn’t anything we were ever trained on.

Most of these meetings were big time sucks.

Yes, many were fun; especially the out of town ones.  Often they involved food and drink.

The meetings that occurred outside my own stores often allowed me to see and visit with folks I didn’t get to see every day.  I very much enjoyed the social aspect of these.

But most of what we enjoyed had nothing to do with what we were there to accomplish.

More importantly, did they provide enough value to offset the huge expense some of them require?

Middle Class Dad meeting ground rules for facilitators parody of a memo from Whole Foods Market about meeting expense

How do you run an effective meeting?

The store-wide meetings were probably the worst of these meetings.

These were mandatory meetings of all store personnel and most of the time were held in the early morning hours.

Thus people who had been there until 11 pm the night before (or later) were required to come right back the next morning; not the happiest of campers.

Then the folks who were already there that morning getting ready for the day had to stop their work for an hour to meet as well.  Also not the happiest of campers.

Somewhere along the way, the company added breakfast and prizes to the mix; basically an incentive to be there and keep the grousing to a minimum.

The more inventive of the meeting runners would at least insert a few jokes or get a little crowd interaction going (I’d like to think that was me).

We had additional expenses such as language interpreters for non-English speakers or sign language translators.

Inclusive for sure, but efficient or effective?

Many of those meetings have been spent simply listening to an awkward public speaker dryly read from an agenda down a boring list of topics.

Meeting ground rules for facilitators were thankfully left up to me as the GM (for the store-based ones), but having them in the first place was not optional.

What is the purpose of having ground rules?

Often meetings turn into social gatherings.

Many of us go through our weekly work schedule without a lot of personal interaction with our co-workers. 

So meetings can often just turn into big gatherings.  Side conversations and drifting from tasks or agendas are common.

Thus getting meetings back on track can take a lot of time.

Many a meeting has been spent only covering a small part of what was actually on the agenda.

Then the leader either extends the meeting longer (groan) or table those items until the next meeting.  Inefficient and not productive in either case.

All because they lacked proper meeting ground rules for facilitators.

Going back to the store meetings I mentioned above, many of these topics are deathly dull; changes in HIPPA laws, changes to company 401k matching, etc.

Often the information was something that had previously been emailed, posted by the time clock and maybe even sent home attached to paychecks.

So it was not even new information.

If you find your meetings just devolve into unregulated social gatherings then schedule monthly or quarterly social get-togethers. 

These can be potlucks at each other’s houses, card games after work or other social gatherings.

Once the team starts to feel a regular social connection, they will be more apt to stay focused at staff meetings.

How do you facilitate a meeting?

You may have heard of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Originally created over 100 years ago by Henry Martyn Robert, this is still considered THE guide for meeting ground rules for facilitators. 

The association that bears his name updates the guide periodically.

What is a good meeting?

A good meeting, very simply:

  1. Starts and ends on time
  2. Has a written agenda that is realistic for the time allotted
  3. Also has a facilitator who goes down the agenda
  4. Stays focused and on-task

With meeting ground rules for facilitators, people feel informed & heard. They feel like their time is valuable and they walk away more motivated than when they came in.

How do you chair difficult meetings?

A difficult meeting could be one with a contentious topic such as cutting back on overtime or a change in the break policy, or the loss of some aspect of the benefits package.

In short, a meeting where the topic(s) are likely to hit people personally and get them riled up.

But it could also simply be one where you know the team will be divided such as whether to continue hold meetings in the morning or evening, which was a common dividing point with the store meetings I ran for Whole Foods Market.

To chair a difficult meeting, I think it makes a big difference to let the team know ahead of time what is going to be discussed.

This could be in the form of a short email, or if you routinely email the agenda topics out before the meeting, make sure it’s clear what will be discussed.

Then have a dedicated Q and A portion of the meeting at the end, with a set end time; that way it doesn’t just turn into an extended grouse-fest or argument that never ends.

If it’s a corporate-type decision that’s already been made and you’re just imparting the news, there really isn’t much point in discussing. But it does make a big difference to help the team understand why the decision was made.

If it’s a good company that they believe in, they’ll accept the decision a little better once they fully understand.

How long should a meeting last?

Anything over 30 minutes is risking boredom, cell-phone checking, and side-conversations.

Mentally, that’s just about how long we can expect our brains to stay focused on one person reading a list of topics, rules, or changes to policy and procedure.

Sure you can amp it up by having prizes or contests, but in a way, those are just gimmicks and aren’t really part of the overall purpose of the meeting. Yes, they get people excited, but they would probably be more excited about not wasting any more of their time than absolutely necessary.

So strive to keep meetings to about 30 minutes.

For some companies, that won’t be possible though. If you have a large group or a lot of topics to cover, you may find your meeting stretches well over an hour.

In those cases, I do think some sort of physical and mental break is a good thing, so a 5-minute stretch break, or have the coffee and snacks in an adjacent room, and have a set (and short) time slot dedicated to that.

If you feel like your meeting needs to be over an hour and a half, then consider either holding additional meetings at a later time or splitting the group and holding different meetings for each group.

After all, if you’re planning a 2 or more hour meeting, the chances are really good everything on your agenda doesn’t apply fully to everyone on the team.

They’ll be much more attentive and happy to participate when you consider what’s on the agenda and how it relates to their job and tasks.

How do you keep meetings on time?

What I do now in my current job as Academy Director for a large martial arts school (I run our weekly staff meeting) is to actually have each agenda topic blocked out for a set length of time.

So we all know before the meeting starts that topic A will be 5 minutes, but topic B will be 20 minutes.

If at the end of the time limit, we’re still talking, I stop everyone and let them know we are at time. Then we collectively vote on whether we will:

  • Table the topic
  • Keep it on the agenda for next week
  • Take time from one of the other topics so we can finish it

I keep my cell phone out on the table during our meetings for the sole purpose of monitoring the time and holding everyone, including the boss, accountable to our timetable.

So what are my . . . 

9 Best Meeting Ground Rules for Facilitators You Should Know?


In general, the smaller the group, the more effective and productive your meeting.

If you have a large team, break down the components and have meetings with each group that is specific to their goals and needs.

Not everyone is working on the same thing.  Your IT person doesn’t really care about changes in HR policy.  On the flip side, your social media manager doesn’t care about changes to your product inventory systems.

So why should they all attend the same meetings?


A written agenda for all meetings is a must.

Ideally, this would be a cloud-based document all could review or add to at any time before or after the meeting.

Make the agenda specific for this group, keep it focused and a reasonable length for the allotted time.

This is a must for meeting ground rules for facilitators.


Depending on your meeting, detailed notes may not be necessary.

But if Joe is taking on tasks A, B & C and Jolyn is handling tasks D, E & F, you need a system for follow up.

For instance, a month from now will you remember who was doing what?  Even if you do, do you have a system to check in and make sure it was handled?


GQUEUES is a great web-based to-do list program. 

You can create many different lists, or queues, and share them with whoever you like.  When a task gets completed, they can check it off and it gets archived. 

You, in turn, can see what has been archived and what is still pending.  Sync it with your Google calendar and set due dates for all tasks. 

That’s what I use and it’s a great way to keep track of your to-do list and the lists of others.  See more in my in-depth Gqueues Review (just click the link to read it on my site).


Some topics just naturally turn into big complaint-fests.

They are reviled, divisive topics that can splinter an otherwise great team.  Some topics are best shelved to their own meeting.  Others might work better if the boss gets input one on one and just makes the call.

Knowing what to put on the agenda and what not to is one of the most important of the meeting ground rules for facilitators.


Nothing says “I don’t respect your time” more than starting way late or a meeting that runs way over the allotted time.

There’s simply no excuse for starting late or not ending on time. Further, if you have written the agenda well and have a good chair running it, there’s no need to go over.

If you do run out of time, figure out why that happened, and take a vote to see if they prefer to plow through, table until next time or call a special meeting for the final topics.


Many a meeting has been held regarding topics that could just as easily been emailed.

If the items are simply notifications that don’t require input or buy-in, consider emailing the team rather than just going down a boring list of FYI’s.


If you’re the boss you might feel like you have to attend all the meetings.

I want you to reconsider this.  As the boss, you wear a lot of hats and have your hands in a lot of different aspects of the business. A successful boss is one who works ON the business and isn’t always IN the business.

Show me a boss who feels like they have to be IN the business all the time and I’ll show you a micromanager who isn’t running their business as effectively as they could.

Guess what happens if you try and manage everything?

Your team will feel micromanaged

A micromanaged team will lack the self-motivation to do anything beyond the bare minimum

You won’t succeed in successfully controlling everything (and you’ll kill yourself in the process)

So ask yourself if your being in that meeting is needed?  Do you have information vital to the process?  Is your presence crucial?

If the answer is no, then there’s probably a better use of your time.

Not sure if you’re a micromanager? Check out my 11 worst Micromanagement Examples and find out! Just click the link to read that on my site.


Consider shorter, more focused meetings where you actually stand up with your team rather than sit.

When we sit we induce complacency, apathy and a feeling of tiredness.

Standing keeps us more energized, and (more importantly), everyone will be much more apt to want to finish on time.


Unless excess noise is a factor, fresh air and sunlight will improve everyone’s mood and energy level; thus making them more focused.


Cell phone usage, unless it’s an emergency, has no place in meetings.

They are a distraction and will prevent everyone from focusing on why they are there.  Request in advance that all attendees either leave phones at desks or minimally turn the ringers off and don’t pick them up during the meeting.

Related: 9 Proven Cell Phone Addiction Symptoms (just click to read my article on this site)


Appoint a rotating meeting chairperson to keep everyone on track.

This person should not be the boss but should keep everyone (including the boss) on track.

When the conversations drift they get everyone back on track quickly.  They also keep track of time and know when to move the group forward and when to end.

This is one of the most crucial meeting ground rules for facilitators.

What are the benefits of having ground rules for meetings?

If you can master meeting ground rules for facilitators, you’ll be way ahead of the curve.  More importantly, you will start to see:

  • A more connected and motivated team
  • Productivity will skyrocket
  • People will want to attend the meeting and be excited about it!
  • Your team will feel valued, heard and empowered
  • The team will feel you respect their time and the importance of not wasting it

OK, I know that sounds a little pie in the sky, and maybe it is a little over the top. But you know what?  Most of us HATE meetings.  We do.

And if you can learn meeting ground rules for facilitators, guess what?  Most of us won’t hate them anymore (or at least nearly as much).

When meeting ground rules for facilitators create more efficient meetings we are happier. We’re not stressed about all the work that’s NOT getting done while we listen to Marge from accounting talking about changes in accrual policy.

Your team will feel like their time is valued.

Final Thoughts

In this post, we took a critical look at why most meetings that most organizations hold simply don’t work.

The average meeting is a time suck that accomplishes little, drains morale and has everyone scrambling afterward to get their individual to-do lists back on schedule.

More importantly, though, we looked at some crucial meeting ground rules for facilitators that will skyrocket productivity and efficiency. You CAN have effective meetings that stay on task and accomplish what they were intended to.

The simple tips in this post will have your meetings truly do what they are supposed to do.

What is one thing you like best about meetings where you work?

Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):

Business Man by energepic.com  is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Staff meeting by Bill Branson is licensed under CC BY 2.0