“Let’s set some ground rules.”

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    “Let’s set some ground rules.”

    How often have you heard this at the start of meetings? Hopefully often! When starting a facilitated session or meeting, the establishment and adoption of ground rules is key.

    Ground rules, or group norms, are used to set an agreed-upon level of behavior that will guide how the participants will interact with one another. While some teams may have worked together for some time and have established their own functional, unspoken ground rules, we have found that most groups benefit from a deliberate process of identifying in-bounds and out-of-bounds behavior. Over time, ground rules can help a group become self-correcting. They will begin correcting themselves based on the norms that they have established and reinforced.

    Secret #15 – The Secret to Using Ground Rules

    You start the list; let them finish it.

    Use ground rules to establish an agreed-upon baseline for interaction, to help a group be self-correcting, and to take an issue off the table. To increase buy-in to the ground rules, you should start the list; but let them finish it.

    Sample Ground Rule List

    1. Everyone speaks
    2. One conversation
    3. Use the parking boards
    4. Take a stand!
    5. Soft on people, hard on ideas
    6. No beeps buzzes or ringy-dingies
    7. Recharge: __________________
    8. My role / your role
    9. Start and end on time



    Smart Facilitators start each session or meeting by suggesting a set of ground rules, explaining each one carefully. They then ask the participants for additions, given their knowledge of the group. They then formally engage the group in a process to adopt the ground rules (as amended). This three-step process has several advantages.

    • Beginning with a starting point minimizes the time in the ground rules development process;
    • Asking for additions “because they know each other better” empowers the group; and
    • Requesting the adoption of the ground rules builds implicit consent to follow them.

    What are some of your ground rules?


    For more resources, see the Library topic Facilitation.


    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company, and author of the new The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement, and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States. | www.leadstrat.com