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A couple of months ago a teamwork consultant came in and assigned a few of us to write a meeting code of conduct. The sample he gave us to work on was several pages long. At this point, I looked up whether or not we already had such a code and it turned out one was made a few years ago and like many such codes, it was never followed and was eventually ignored, consigned to some archive Basecamp project dustbin. My personal belief is that expecting every employee to read and enforce such a long and elaborate code is just not going to work. The project managers (of which I am one) should be the ones responsible for ensuring meetings run smoothly and they might have different effective ways to run a meeting.

Have any of you had experience with meeting codes of conduct? Did they work for you?

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Boy did those consultants cheat your company out of some money!!! If someone asked me to do a task like this it would be hours before I stopped laughing hysterically. –  HLGEM Dec 11 '12 at 21:48
    
Seconded based on HLGEM's comment. If they're a teamwork consultant, shouldn't THEY be writing this? If there's already one in place, perhaps it just needs to be made or projected into a simpler fashion for new members of these meetings to be able to browse and automatically understand the boundaries. –  cloyd800 Dec 11 '12 at 21:49
    
I've never even heard of a meeting code of conduct before. I suspect this is a 'teamwork exercise', i.e. the object is to get the team to work together to come up with a meeting code of conduct, and the resulting code is no more useful than the towers of spaghetti and marshmallows that get made in other exercises. –  DJClayworth Dec 11 '12 at 22:10
    
maybe it was a teamwork exercise, but either way my boss is expecting us to come up with one, but I am going to be frank with him and tell him that I don't think the ideas this consultant wanted to implement are realistic or appropriate for our particular situation. –  Melissa Dec 11 '12 at 23:00
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Melissa, this is why you are tasked with writing this, not the consultant. This is your opportunity to come up with something that works for you. See my post below for more explanation. –  jmort253 Dec 12 '12 at 6:00
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5 Answers

Yes they can work.

The important qualities in a Code of Conduct:

  • Be concise and practical. A multi-page document is useless. A single page with 5-10 bullet points works much better.
  • Be consistent - The rules should be the same for all people in the meeting. Special exceptions for managers and executives just create problems. If it is good enough to be in the code then it is good enough for the CEO to follow too.
  • Have Management support and Lead by example. People want to follow their leaders. If a persons manager does not enforce the code then that person is not only less likely to follow it themselves they are likely not to feel empowered to enforce it.
  • Do not be to inflexible. Rules such as meeting should never last more that 60 minutes, and must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance are going to be broken. Having rules like these on a CoC act like broken windows. Where more flexible terms like: Meeting organizers should attempt to limit their meetings to 60 minutes and provide a days notice prior to the meeting when ever possible give a good target to shoot for with out having to feel like an outlaw when real life steps all over the rules.
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And then what do you do when your manager breaks the rules? And what if the meeting goes over an hour and makes the next meeting late? Do they lose ten minutes or is every meeting then late? What happens when you're in a meeting and the chairman comes in and says he needs the room? In my experience, any company that needs a code of conduct for meetings probably isn't going to have the culture to follow it. –  pdr Dec 11 '12 at 22:31
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The first rule of meeting etiquette is that the meeting leader can run it however they choose, as long as they run it with respect to the time constraints of the attendees and anyone who booked the space afterward. –  KeithS Dec 11 '12 at 22:59
    
As for whom to go to when the rules are broken, everyone has a boss; even the CEO (who answers to the owners/BoD). If someone's chronically wasting your time in meetings that were ill-conceived or ill-managed, go to their boss and explain the problem. –  KeithS Dec 11 '12 at 23:03
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+1 for the first point. The meeting code of conduct shouldn't be significantly longer than this fine answer. –  Carson63000 Dec 12 '12 at 0:21
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If the CEO of a company can't adhere to the guidelines I stated in my answer, which as I said are no more or less than everyday professional courtesy, then how the heck did he get to be CEO of anything? –  KeithS Dec 12 '12 at 17:00
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Here's an example Code of Conduct I threw together in 15 minutes:

  • The "meeting leader" (whomever will be presiding or presenting) may run the meeting however they like, disregarding any or all of the following rules, except:
    • The leader must run the meeting with respect to its attendees, their personal/professional standing and reputation, and their time constraints, as well as the time constraints of those outside the walls of the meeting room, and
    • Any deviations from the below rules must be clearly communicated by the leader to the attendees before or at the start of the meeting.
  • The leader should begin the meeting punctually at the scheduled time, or else provide advance notice of a postponement.
  • Attendees should be present at the meeting venue with sufficient time to be seated and prepare for the meeting by its start time.
  • The leader should clearly communicate the goals/objective/agenda of the meeting to all attendees before or at the start of the meeting.
  • The leader has the "floor" (the right to speak and be heard) from the start of the meeting until he says otherwise, and is the only one who may take the floor from another speaker.
  • Attendees should give whomever has the floor their full attention and refrain from distracting activities, or else politely excuse themselves to deal with any pressing external matter.
  • Whomever has the floor should endeavor to be concise, articulate and clearly heard by all others.
  • The meeting leader should strive to keep the meeting on topic and any discussion civil. Attendees should heed any attempt by the leader to change the subject or end discussion.
  • The above rules apply to any meeting leader and all attendees without exception, regardless of relative salary, hierarchical status, business/interpersonal relationship, or ego.

As you can see, a Meeting Code of Conduct doesn't have to be verbose, detailed or overly binding. Pretty much all of the above is little more than common courtesy, and to be expected in any professional interpersonal situation.

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er no a meeting leader should not run meetings "however they like" - I would suggest using Citrine or Roberts as your guide. –  Neuro Dec 15 '12 at 17:38
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Um, yeah, I'm gonna pass on that. Roberts' Rules of Order is ostensibly the way my church conducts meetings, and we spend more time arguing parliamentary procedure than actually making decisions. Further, there are multiple possible formats of a meeting, which break any or all of the above rules and yet work perfectly well for certain working groups. –  KeithS Dec 28 '12 at 7:01
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Yes a meeting Code of Conduct should be implemented in some form. I have only a few simple rules myself for our office as follows:

  • Only call a meeting with the people expected to make the decisions (not to add people for CYA)
  • Have a prepared agenda included in the invite and at the meeting
  • Have a set time for the meeting and don't go over, but do break early if meeting is done
  • Start on time

Really, that is it for our company. Not pages of rules, but enough for us to get done. Meetings are a huge waste of time for most. We always strive for answers and decisions without a meeting and have been able to cut many out of our workplace.

Is that enough for a Code of Conduct? Not traditionally in a HR sense, but it is enough to have manageable meetings and it is easy enough to post on the wall of our main meeting rooms.

I hope that helps in addition to the other excellent answers.

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My experience with a leadership consultant:

We had a consultant come in and talk to us about leadership and management. Meetings was only a small part of it, but the concepts from my experience should also apply to your situation.

The leadership consultant had us come up with some ways that we can build better relationships with the people who work for us and with us, and although it seemed like busy work, there were some things that we took away from the experience that had an overall positive impact on our working relationships. Maybe we didn't all become outstanding leaders at that moment, but the seeds were planted...

The consultant's role was to guide us and help us come up with a plan that worked for us, and the consultant you're meeting with should hopefully help and guide you in coming up with a plan that works for you.

Why do companies do this?

Companies sometimes do things like this as experiments. About that big long rulebook you found that no one enforces, well, it's an example of a failed experiment. This terrible idea didn't seem so terrible when it was thought-up, and luckily the idea died simply because it was long, boring, and most likely very dry reading.

Consider that management might be smarter than you give them credit for. Maybe they chose to forget about that very big rulebook on purpose, since they know it didn't work.

Use this as a learning experience; a chance to collaborate and improve

Thus, it's very possible that the code of conduct teamwork exercise is intended to encourage you to work together to build a framework for meetings, which you, as a project manager, can then use to tailor your own meeting-style. So don't think of this code of conduct as a list of inflexible rules but more as guiderails to help you navigate the meetings successfully while still tailoring them to your unique problem and situation.

This is the difference between a framework and hard-fast, inflexible rules. The framework should give you just enough information to start you off on the path to success without dictating the finite details.

For instance, if you hold larger meetings than other project managers, and clients are involved, then perhaps what works for you might not work for others. The goal of the exercise should be to come up with ideas that will make all of your meetings successful, yet still allow you the breathing room you need to adapt to change.

If you asked me today what we talked about with our consultant, I don't fully remember. In the end, this experiment should be successful even if you forget all about the worksheets you filled out with the consultant. Why? Because the ideas are your own, and hopefully they'll become second-nature. :) And if it fails, then hopefully you and management have the foresight to move on and try something different. Hope this helps!

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Does a company need a meeting code of conduct?

In theory, a "meeting code of conduct" makes sense.

  • If workers were more punctual, then meetings could start on time and finish earlier.
  • If meetings ended on time, then conference rooms would be vacant before subsequent meetings began.
  • If people stopped interrupting each other, then everyone could express their point of view, and everyone would be heard.
  • If people respected the conference room reservation system, then workers would never quarrel about who has conference room priority.

So okay... Let's create a "Meeting Code of Conduct"!

...But wait a minute... Who will create this "Meeting Code of Conduct"? Who will amend it? And most importantly - Who will enforce it?

And what about exceptions? Will the company make any for "exceptional" circumstances?

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You see, even if we could craft the ideal "Meeting Code of Conduct" and commit it to an MS Word doc, it would have to be a living document, subject to change. And therein lies the first problem - Who will maintain this living document?

And even if you get past that challenge... What if someone violates one of the tenets of this "Meeting Code of Conduct"? Will you discipline them? If so, what will be the penalty? When will it be administered?

And finally, will you make exceptions? What about star performers? What if somebody is genuinely busy and they simply can't be more punctual? What if somebody is brilliant and they singularly make the company profitable, but they just can't keep their mouth shut during a meeting?

Now you may have an answer for each and every one of my questions, but the fact remains - Creating a "meeting code of conduct" introduces non-trivial overhead, and the effort required to maintain it and enforce it will likely lead to an early obsolescence.

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