May 2012

Starting Meetings Right


by Jay W. Vogt

Start your meetings right, and they are more likely to end right. Master facilitators at The Grove Consultants International guide you to do one thing at the start of every meeting: Remember OARRs (Outcomes, Agenda, Roles and Rules).


Effective meetings define desired outcomes for success. I facilitate many meetings, and when designing them with a client, I ask, “Assuming that the meeting is a great success, what will you have at the end that you didn’t have at the beginning?”

Typical meeting outcomes might be an agreement, a decision, or an action plan. It could be something tangible like a list of options, or less tangible, like a greater sense of team.

Outcomes are critical because every choice you make about the meeting—from what goes on the agenda, to how you arrange seating, to how much time you take, even to what food you have on hand—is decided based on how it delivers those outcomes.

So if you find yourself in a meeting that starts without a clear sense of the goals and desired outcomes, ask, “Can we take a moment and establish what we hope to accomplish in this meeting?”


Effective meetings have a clear agenda of activities that are designed to deliver the stated outcomes. The best agendas define a sequence of topics, specify the amount of time assigned to each topic, list the person who leads each item, and detail any needed resources (like pre-reading, handouts or slide presentations).

An agenda (with desired outcomes), should be distributed to participants in advance so people can prepare. If you find yourself in a meeting without an agenda, you can ask, “Can we make a quick list of the things we want to discuss in the time that we have?”


Effective meetings begin with an understanding of what roles are needed to ensure success and who is performing them. You may want a designated facilitator (whose job it is to keep the group focused on the task at hand) to make sure everyone who wishes to speak gets that opportunity. There may be a recorder taking notes or transcribing highlights onto posters in the front of the room to serve as a shared group memory. There may be a timekeeper to help alert the group to the time remaining to complete a task.

If you find yourself in a meeting that offers little hope of disciplined guidance, speak up and say, “Perhaps we’ll be more productive if one of us serves as the facilitator for this meeting.”


Effective meetings begin with ground rules for how people are expected to behave to ensure the meeting’s success. When designing a meeting for a group for the first time, I often ask, “What agreements do we need to have about how we work together so that everyone is able to make a full contribution?”

People say, “One person speaks at a time,” because many participants who are repeatedly interrupted shut down and eventually stop talking altogether. Others say, “Speak up, yet speak briefly,” since they want everyone to contribute without anyone dominating. Some say, “Balance advocacy with inquiry,” since they want individuals to promote their views while also questioning others to learn from views different from their own.

If you find yourself in a meeting without any established norms about how people may be expected to act, try saying, “Let’s take a minute and agree on a few basic ground rules about how we want to work together in this meeting.”


If you want to experience team alignment in a meeting, don’t forget your OARRs. Start every meeting by briefly confirming your Outcomes, Agenda, Roles and Rules to get everyone rowing in the same direction.

Jay W. Vogt is an organizational development consultant, and author of Recharge Your Team – The Grounded Visioning Approach. Learn more at