By Ron Jakubisin, Positive Youth Development Extension Educator
Everyone is on time, all the youth officers are present, there is an agenda. What could go wrong? Perhaps the question should be reframed: How can we make it better? There are things we can control, like agendas, room set-up, etc. Then, there are some things we can’t control. It’s been a long day, energy and focus levels are all over the place. Everyone wants to visit more than being a part of a formal meeting. Lots of stuff right?
One strategy for successful meetings is establishing guidelines or expectations or hitting the ‘reset button’ to update already used meeting expectations. Meetings are rooted in guidelines and expectations (i.e. group rules, group norms or group agreements.) Each name may communicate the same thing in a slightly different way. Whichever word you use the key components for all are group ownership, understanding, and commitment to positive behavior by all when the group meets. This means officers and group members, youth and adults. All who are in attendance.
The Different Names for Group Guidelines
Rules: Understood regulations governing conduct; (verb) exercise ultimate power or authority over (implies punishment when rules are broken).
Norms: Something that is usual, typical, or standard; a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group. (I always explain it to younger youth by saying it’s short for ‘normal’. For example: in our house, it’s normal to expect everyone to wash their hands before eating a meal. That behavior is our ‘norm’.)
Agreements: To agree; harmony of opinion or action. An out-of-the-box word to use in place of ‘rules’ but it reminds everyone that the group created & agreed to follow positive behaviors to have an organized, productive and fun meeting.
Use the word that you think your group can identify and respond to the most. Just remember the key elements are to engage everyone in the creation and follow-through of the group’s expectations.
When gathering ideas please keep the following in mind:
- The facilitator keeps the process going; no dictating, no judging what idea is good or bad.
- You, as a facilitator can give a few suggestions to jump-start the conversation (i.e. begin and end meetings on time, no put-downs, etc.)
- It is important to discuss each one briefly and get group feedback. To create clarity and ownership, make sure everyone understands each rule and rewrite if needed.
- In facilitating editing, if a phrase reads as negative, ask the group first for a way to say it positively. Then offer suggestions. For example: “Don’t interrupt others when they speak” could be suggested as “One person speaks at a time” or “Listen respectfully to all ideas.”
- The goal is to write as positively as possible. There may be times where this is unavoidable such as “No side-conversations when others are addressing the whole group” or “No cell phone use/electronics during the meeting time unless it is part of an activity.” Ask the group, ‘Is this what you mean?”. This engages them in rephrasing ideas into positive statements.
- You’re going to get a lot of ideas. Place similar ideas together and ask the group for a way to rephrase them that captures them all in one statement. Then ask for agreement, “Does this represent what everyone meant?” Set a limit. “We will decide on the __ most important ones”. (7 – 10 fits nicely on a poster or as a footer on the bottom of your agenda.
- Ron’s note: I would always impose one guideline that must be agreed upon. “I understand and agree that, if needed, the club officers will ‘refocus’ everyone (with a phrase or sound) which I will acknowledge and respond to help the group get quiet and back on track.”
Gather Group Ideas
This can be done in a few ways:
- The group shouts out ideas, and a recorder puts them on flip chart paper or whiteboard for all to see.
- Sticky pads – Making it anonymous. One guideline subject per sheet, with no more than seven words per entry. Collect them all, place on board and arrange in similar groups. Then start rephrasing groups of statements into one statement that everyone agrees with.
- Complete this activity in one meeting, or do a part I and part II if you have a large group. Split the meeting as Part 1 organize ideas and Part 2 discuss/edit what works for the group.
- Challenge them with the Rule of Seven: no more than seven words per sticky pad.
All the Ideas Have Been Collected, Now What?
- If you have engaged the group in discussion and editing of each statement (“Is this what you meant?” “How can we rephrase it to be a positive behavior?”) then move to consensus.
- Write out each statement on a separate page, post around the room and give everyone 10 stickers. Participants can vote on the 10 most important statements (rules, expectations or agreements).
- Take all agreed-upon statements and create a laminated poster to hang up at all meetings. Make them a ‘footer’ on future agendas and/or any print material about meetings or activities.
- Have someone read them out loud as part of your new ‘normal’ at every meeting start: Pledge of Allegiance, 4-H Pledge, and then ‘Our Group Agreements’. Include a short statement to be read every time that reminds everyone that they created and agreed to the list: such as “As we gather for our club meeting (activity) I would like to remind the parents and the youth of the list of rules/agreements that we created to help everyone get the most out of our time together. (read the list)”. Thank you!
Q: What if the group doesn’t brainstorm a guideline which I, as a facilitator, believe should be included?
A: When giving a few examples in the directions you could include that important one. You’re not trying to stack the deck with what you want, the intentions should always be that it is group created, group owned. Another way to do this is when the group is at a lull, this could be a good time to ask them if they have forgotten anything (such as the issue you want to include). The group should be asked to be thoughtful in giving suggestions on how to make their time together fun and productive. Reminding them about focusing comments that is pertinent to your meeting time. It keeps youth from being sarcastic, funny or unrealistic (no bank robbery, etc.)
Q: What if people aren’t following the agreements?
A: A kind response said calmly could help refocus the person or subgroup of people such as: “I’ve noticed that we are not following the agreements for our group behavior, could everyone quickly glance at them as a reminder of how we want to conduct ourselves during a meeting.”
When reminding people, it is important to remain calm and speak calmly. Getting frustrated or angry makes it personal, and shows people we can’t handle being a leader, and most likely breaks one of the agreements on the list (being mean, disrespectful, etc.).
Q: What if we have repeat offenders and youth are continually ignoring the group guideline?
A: There comes a time when leaders, both young and adult, have to use their leadership skills to respectfully confront and problem-solve. Youth officers should be coached on how to address the guideline being broken without ‘breaking’ the individual. The person being addressed should be addressed privately, and as soon as possible after the meeting (if it’s a youth, include their parent/guardian). In a calm, supportive manner stating objectively what the officers /adult leader said and asking the person for a commitment to follow the rules.
Q: What if the repeat offender is an adult?
A: Another leadership learning opportunity for youth officers. The youth don’t have to take the lead however it can be impactful for that disruptive adult to see/hear youth officers as part of the conversation. Again, it is a reminder that everyone, youth and, adults want a successful fun productive meeting.
Suggestions for solutions could be made, depending on the adult’s circumstances, that would make it a win-win. For example, Phone calls: “Please take them outside, even though you are whispering, the sound carries and we can hear you.”; Side conversations: “it’s great that you and the other parents are friends but the discussions and volume is distracting…could you meet in the hallway?”
Q: What if I need more ideas on how to create group expectations that will positively impact our youth and our meetings.
A: Ron Jakubisin, Positive Youth Development Extension Educator is happy to take phone calls, emails, or meet to discuss strategies and steps in creating group expectations to enhance the outcomes of your meetings. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 262-335-4481