Protocols Contracts: How To Set the Stage for Effective Team Meetings

by | Dec 31, 2013

One of the most critical aspects of leadership is enrolling your people in the vision you have for your organization’s future. With this essential buy-in, a strong leader can transform a group that may have disparate purposes into one with collective strengths and skills to improve performance. Running effective team meetings sets the stage for this process.

Enrollment conversations give leaders the opportunity to tune their listening and engage in open and honest dialogue. Because a group may be at risk of going in different directions, and because levels of enrollment will vary, these discussions can be challenging and at times bordering on contentious.

The best way to engage your team in an enrollment conversation is by establishing the terms of the conversation in a “protocols contract.” An effective protocols contract is easily handled by the leader at the onset of a meeting. It focuses the conversation and participant behaviors to ensure that your meeting proceeds positively and toward the desired result.

Elements of an Effective Protocols Contract

Starting a meeting with a protocols contract establishes a safe-lab environment in which people can engage in constructive conversations, develop understandings, and ultimately choose to support a fresh initiative. Protocols allow for safe effective team meetings to take place.

Critical elements of the protocols contract will include:

    • Objectives. Up-front and clearly stated objectives by the leader or facilitator are important (e.g., “Our objective today is to create a new vision that will take us into the future” or “Today, our plan is to have a full and complete discussion about (X project). I expect our conversations to be positive and constructive.”).
    • Nondisclosure. Meetings can create environments where team members are able to voice ideas and concerns they’re not prepared to share in other venues or contexts. Consequently, I always invoke a statement similar to “What happens in this room stays in this room.” In this way, participants feel more self-confident when voicing their genuine opinions, and the conversations tend to flow better.
    • Acceptance. There can be no recriminations. If, for instance, a colleague voices an opinion that disagrees with his boss, he must feel confident that he will not be reproached or retaliated against either inside or outside of the discussion.


  • Open-minded listening. This discussion is about listening and discovery; no one is wrong. Imagine a conversation in which people don’t feel the need to defend themselves, and then consider what we could get done! That’s exactly the atmosphere and energy that makes enrollment conversations successful.
  • Participation. Individuals are expected to participate and voice their opinions within the context of the meeting objectives.
  • Discussion. When participants are expected to bring fresh ideas to the table, we detach ourselves from agreement, and it is not the critical objective. Enrollment has different elements that allow for disagreement that does not bode ill for the process. In fact, it can be an invaluable component of the method.
  • Respect. “Will you agree to these terms?” Asking for agreement is a simple way to set the stage for constructive dialogue.
  • Mutual agreement. I ask for a “show of hands” among all individuals to observe the “rules of engagement.”

Stay Positive

When leaders focus on the positive outcomes they hope to achieve, and avoid speaking about the “don’ts”, the conversation is more likely to remain positive and conducive to keeping the enrollment of your team focused on the objective.

The ultimate goal of an enrollment conversation when implementing change, a new project, or a fresh vision, is to ensure that the team feels included in the process. This provides a solid foundation for running effective team meetings. While these individuals may not have developed or initiated the change, they will ultimately drive it forward. A protocols contract on how you expect the meeting to proceed is the first major step in having a productive enrollment conversation. Crafting a sense of common purpose with this simple contract helps align the team, producing creative discussion and better outcomes.

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