Examples of Ground Rules. Tips for Facilitators

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Examples of Ground Rules. Tips for Facilitators

What are Ground Rules?
When you're going to participate in some form of group activity, it's a good idea to agree beforehand upon some rules all participants must follow. Such agreements are called: Ground Rules (GR).
GR are the standards of conduct for meetings, brainstorming sessions, trainings, workshops, mediation, arbitration and other forms of consensus building.
They may cover the behavior of the participants, the role and behavior of the facilitator, the methods and process to be used, and the substance of the discussions.

Ground Rules Synonyms
GR are also being called: discussion guidelines, community norms, participation agreements, a protocol, or rules of engagement.

Why are Ground Rules Important?
GR help improve the efficiency of the entire process making up the event and also to ensure all parties they will be treated equally and fairly during the process, by anchoring the respect attendants should have towards each other, towards the facilitor and towards the event during its process.

Instituting Ground Rules
As the facilitator it's your job to help the group design its GR. In many instances, GR are developed by the facilitator before the first meeting takes place and they are sent in draft form to the parties for their review.
Due to time constraints, it may be necessary for you to simply 'proclaim' the list for the group at the beginning of the actual event. You could then ask for additional GR from the participants.
At least be sure to inquire whether the GR are agreeable and mention that if you had more time together, you would have preferred the group to generate the list.

List of Common / Typical Ground Rules:
1. PUNCTUALITY: Start on time, also after breaks. Finish on time.
2. PREPARATION: Be prepared (if applicable). Read materials, minutes before the event.
3. NO STRONG LANGUAGE: A certain level of enthusiasm, energy and even passion is welcome.
4. NO HOSTILITY: Respect other's opinions. Remarks based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality are not alowed. No blame games: discuss the problem, but don't attack the person.
5A. PHONES: Should be either switched off or at least set to silent mode and may not be answered unless in case of an emergency or exceptional circumstances.
5B. LAPTOPS: You might distinguish between making notes and looking for information versus checking email and social networking.
6. LISTEN CAREFULLY: Patiently absorb what other persons say. And don't interrupt. See active listening for more information.
7. EVERYBODY PARTICIPATES: success depends on the inclusion of every individual view.
8. NO MONOPOLIZING: Cut in on a longwinded group member with, “That’s an interesting point you just made. Did anyone else get the same impression or a different one?”
9. CHALLENGING / DISAGREEING IS WELCOME, BUT RESPECTFULLY: Be free to speak minds without fear or reprisal. No personal attacks (see also above #4.).
10. NO SIDE CONVERSATIONS: stay on topic / task.
12. OPERATE ON CONSENSUS: Seek general agreements all can “live with". Make decisions based on clear information. Bring closure to decisions. Identify actions that result from decisions. Members will support group decisions.
13. CONFIDENTIALITY: Agree on what information may go “out” and what stays in the group. What can be shared in the media and what not? By whom and when?

Ground Rules Facilitator Tips
A. CREATE OWNERSHIP of GR: Establish and affirm collective responsibility. See also above: Instituting Ground Rules.
B. POST GR SOMEWEHERE VISIBLE during the entire meeting/training/etc.
C. TAILOR GR: adapt the GR to the situation at hand. Most of the times not all guidelines are needed.
D. ENFORCE GR EARLY: set the tone immediately is someone does not adhere to the GR.
E. REPEATEDLY BREAKING GR ⇒ DISCUSS: If a particular ground rule is repeatedly broken, bounce it back to the participants. A fruitful discussion can often arise from a close examination of why the rule is not adhered to.
F. BE A MODEL FOR GR: as the facilitator of course you should be a shining example
H. ENSURE FULL PARTICIPATION. See above under #7 and #8.
I. GUARD DEADLINES: The principle, 'You can let yourself down, but it's not OK to let the group down' underpins successful group work.
J. CULTIVATE INDIVIDUAL SACRIFICING: Sometimes group work requires people to make personal needs and wishes subordinate to the goal of the group. This is all the more valuable when other group members recognize that this is happening...

Which common ground rules should be added to our list? Do you have any additional GR-tips for the facilitator? Please enter your ideas!


Tom Wilson
HR Consultant, United States

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Gary Wong
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On Ground Rule #12 for Consensus

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Ivan Kohlinsky
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On Ground Rule #8: No Monopolizing: Don't Allow Self Interested Groups to Sit Together

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Charles Tombazian, United States

On Facilitation Ground Rule #9: Challenging Respectfully

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nuria bages, Spain

On Facilitation Ground Rule #7: Get Involved

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Yvette Elcock, UK

Better Name for Facilitation Ground Rules

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Andrew Blaine
Business Consultant, South Africa

Another Ground Rule: Observe Time Limits

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Garth Nowland-Foreman, New Zealand

How Ground Rules Can Hurt

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Arif ur Rehman
Professor, Pakistan

The Ground Rules Crest

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Kees van der Zanden

Ways of Maintaining the Ground Rules

Dear Jaap and commentors, in my experience, the most exiting thing comes after having set the GR: ma... Sign up

Maggie Golding
HR Consultant, United States

Potential Extra Ground Rule - Be Accountable

@Kees van der Zanden:One of our standard ground rules is: "Be accountable to self & others – Acknowl... Sign up

antonio esquivias villalobos
Teacher, Spain

Additional Ground Rules: End of Course and: Breaks

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M Banville, Canada

Additional Ground Rule: Have Fun

I always suggest the group to add a last one to the list: Have Fun! I tell them "We are going to sp... Sign up

Tom Wilson
HR Consultant, United States

Thumbs: Up, Down or Sideways

@Gary Wong: Adding to your remarks on achieving consensus, a technique I have used is the informal t... Sign up

Project Manager, Zimbabwe

On Ground Rule #8: No Monopolizing

I totally agree. Participants should sacrifice personal interests for group interests. Some form of ... Sign up

Mrs. Josephine Idele
Partner, Nigeria

Additional Ground Rule: Appoint a Timekeeper

In meetings there is often a tendency by certain participants when giving a presentation or presenti... Sign up

Arif ur Rehman
Professor, Pakistan

Allowing Ground Rules to Rule

As Controller of Examinations, at a leading private sector university in Pakistan, I was just wonde... Sign up

Tom Wilson
HR Consultant, United States

It's Like Getting to Carnagie Hall...

@Arif ur Rehman: ... Practice. Practice. Practice. You and your department are engaged in a process ... Sign up

Jagdish B Acharya
Consultant, India

Keep Minimum Number of Ground Rules

What we expect from group members can be described by two lists. 1. Ground Rules (GR): Essential fo... Sign up

Steven Keleman, Ed.D.
Management Consultant, United States

On Rule #9: Consider Using the 'But Out' Rule

The word "but" is often used to disagree with the phrase that came before. The ground rule might be:... Sign up

Tom Wilson
HR Consultant, United States

The 'This AND That'-rule

@Steven Keleman, Ed.D: As you observed, Ram Dass said that "Everything before the 'but' is bullshit... Sign up

Yemi Smith
Management Consultant, Nigeria

A Variant of Ground Rule #10: One House

The article and comments are quiet enlightening. My addition to the GR's is: One House - No side com... Sign up


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