Meeting ground rules

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Facilitation techniques are about designing and managing group interactions so that people truly collaborate and make sound decisions.

(Bens, 1997)

 

I recently attended a full day session on building facilitation skills for meetings. Despite the large amount of time I spend in meetings—as a participant and as a facilitator-participant, I have never formally learned about meeting design. The facilitator, Charles Holmes ran a great session and I learned a lot. In this blog post, I write about one key idea from the session: Ground Rules

Ground rules make sense in the context of meetings. They help participants establish common understanding about what is desired and appropriate behaviour so that the group can function effectively and make high-quality decisions.

Though I know it is good practice to do these, I have—to date—typically avoided creating ground rules when facilitating meetings and processes. Somehow, I feel awkward about doing them with adults because I believe ‘we all know how to use common sense and be good to one another in our interactions’ (and so my assumption is that it is condescending to spend time articulating how we want to interact with one another). Yet, that assumption hasn’t consistently proven to be true! And, I have participated in various mundane and ineffective meetings.

So, I think it is time I get over my feeling of awkwardness.

Here are some key points about ground rules that I took away from the session I recently attended:

1. Discuss why it is worthwhile spending time developing ground rules and how these will be used. Though, as a facilitator you may be aware of the benefits of ground rules, the same may not be true of the participants. Therefore, it is worthwhile thinking about how you will introduce the concept and its application to the specific group you are working with. Do not assume meeting members will buy-in and/or know how to use ground rules; instead, make time to have this discussion together.

2. It may be desirable to use a word other than “ground rules”. Because some people may react negatively to the word ‘rules’, it may be preferable to use another word. Alternatives include: meeting norms, team agreements, rules of engagement, or conditions for success.

3. Create ground rules as a group and clarify meaning. After you have introduced the concept to the group and once you have buy-in, generate the ground rules together. Invite people to volunteer ideas and take the time to clarify the meaning of the words as people will associate different meanings to words. Make sure to create ground rules that are specific enough so that it is easy to determine whether they are being honoured.

4. Interact with the ground rules on an ongoing basis and give permission for the rules to be modified. By that I mean, you will want to post the rules at the meetings (i.e., on a flipchart or other appropriate visual) and make reference to them as needed. The point is not to create rules as a group (#3) and then forget about them.  Give the group permission to ask questions about and amend the rules.

5. Check-in at the end of the meeting as to whether the rules were honoured. At the end of a meeting, or on a periodic basis, it is helpful to check-in with the group as to whether they thought each ground rule was met. There are different ways to do this. For example, you can have a whole group conversation if your sense is that this is a high-functioning group in which members can have healthy disagreements. Alternatively, you can ask people to individually and anonymously rate the degree to which a rule was met on a piece of paper that you collect. Regardless of what approach you take, it is then important for the group to have a conversation about the ‘results’.

For some additional resources and/or sample ground rules, see:

If you have additional thoughts and ideas about facilitation and using ground rules for effective meetings, please leave a comment below.

 

This post is a modified version of a LinkedIn post I wrote in June.

 

Bens, Ingrid, Facilitating with Ease: Core Skills for Facilitators, Team Leaders and Members, Managers, Consultants, and Trainers, Participative Dynamics, 1997.

Photo:

Team Touching Hands, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Team_touching_hands.jpg

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