I recently walked into a client’s conference room and smiled when I saw this sign on the wall:

No Objectives?
No Agenda?
No Ground Rules?

Most would read this sign and think: “Duh. I already know that.” But, knowing is different than doing. And just doing is different than skillful and conscientious doing.

Early in my career I was taught that starting a meeting well involves placing the “OARRs” in the water. (OARR is an acronym for Objectives, Agenda, Rules, and Roles). I learned the importance of opening a meeting by reviewing these elements:

Objectives: Create shared clarity about the outcomes the meeting is supposed to achieve (e.g., decisions, idea generation, shared understanding, etc.).

Agenda: Affirm how the conversation will be structured and how the group will be using its time. Great agendas encourage focus, putting people at ease.

Rules: Suggest and elicit buy-in to a simple set of shared agreements about behavior that will support the group in achieving the meeting goals.

Roles: Define the unique jobs people in the meeting will have (e.g., facilitator, recorder, subject matter expert, decision-maker, etc.)

Starting a meeting in this way takes about 8 minutes. Time well invested If you count the minutes wasted by people straying off topic, engaging in nonconstructive behavior (e.g., repeating what has already been said), and disagreeing about process.

In the same way that a troupe of fluid improvisational dancers needs to know where the stage begins and ends, OARRs are the minimum boundaries that help people understand why they are in a meeting and what is expected.

What is your best tip for starting a meeting off well?

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