“Sometimes people act inappropriately at our meetings. They come in late, interrupt others, ramble from topic to topic, dominate discussions, are hostile to the ideas and opinions of others, and have side conversations. Is there an easy way to handle these situations?”
Technique 3. GROUND RULES
What Are GROUND RULES?
GROUND RULES, as a productivity technique, help establish and maintain acceptable standards of meeting behavior. Using this technique virtually eliminates behavior problems before they begin. When behavior problems do occur, pre-established GROUND RULES support your request for change.
This technique involves discussing and posting the resulting meeting GROUND RULES in a way that constantly reminds meeting participants of the rules and regulations of their meeting.
If standards of behavior are not discussed and agreed upon ahead of time, it is very difficult to censure a person’s behavior because the group has never defined acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. GROUND RULES provide this definition and become the group’s standards of behavior. They support meeting productivity, creativity, and participation and help keep the meeting on track.
When to Use GROUND RULES
• When you want to use your meeting time wisely
• When you expect conflict because of specific personalities or volatile issues
• When the group has a lot to accomplish in a short period of time
• When there is a history of unproductive behavior at previous meetings
• When a group is working together for the first time
How to Use GROUND RULES
1. At your meeting, introduce the idea and state the purpose of having GROUND RULES. For example: “Ground rules are designed to act as an agreement outlining how we will conduct ourselves during the meeting. Once we have agreed on them, we will post our ground rules near the front of the room and refer to them as needed. Anyone can remind us of our ground rules when he or she sees that we are getting off track.”
NOTE: If you want to establish GROUND RULES with a preexisting group, talk with the group, or at least a sampling of participants, about the idea before you put the issue on the agenda. For example: “It seems to me that we have established some unproductive norms, such as jumping from subject to subject, starting late, and so on. (Use your own meetings’ examples without pointing fingers.] I would like to take a few minutes at our next meeting to determine what standards we would like to establish for ourselves in the future. What do you think of this idea?”
2. Using chart paper, show the group draft GROUND RULES, as in the below example.
Examples of GROUNDRULES:
• Listen to and honor all opinions and concerns
• One conversation at a time
• Focus on the task at hand
• Help us stay on track and on schedule
• Avoid detail overload – keep remarks brief and to the point
• Work toward honest consensus
• Think “out of the box”
• Avoid personal agendas
• Stay future oriented – don’t dwell on the past
• Offer solutions, not complaints
• All items written on charts as a record
• No lectures
• Cellular phones off
• Fun is allowed
3. Ask the group members what GROUND RULES they would like to use as their own. Chart (write down on chart paper) their ideas.
OPTION A: Use a fresh piece of paper to chart their ideas.
OPTION B: Leave plenty of room on the page of example GROUND RULES you presented. Write modifications and additions directly on that page.
4. When you and your group feel that the list of GROUND RULES is complete, ask if there are any GROUND RULES that anyone cannot live with or support. Change them as necessary. Be sure that everyone agrees to all the GROUND RULES.
NOTE: In potentially volatile situations or with a very dysfunctional group, ask each person individually, in round-robin fashion, if he or she is willing to personally support the GROUND RULES.
5. If appropriate, ask participants what measures they, as a group, think should be taken if the GROUND RULES are not followed. This helps secure agreement on how to handle potential problems when they occur and makes everyone responsible for meeting success. Agree on something that fits the personality of the group, can be done by any participant, and serves as clear and immediate feedback. For example, one group agreed to point in the direction of the posted ground rules as a nonverbal reminder. Another group decided to use a more direct approach and created this formula:
“We agreed to [indicate the pertinent GROUND RULE]. It seems like we’re/you’re [state the disruptive behavior]. What do you think?”
Here are two specific examples:
“We agreed to avoid detail overload. It seems like you are giving us more information than we need at this point. What do you think?”
“We agreed to listen to and honor all opinions and concerns. It seems like you are not taking Julie’s perspective seriously. What do you think?”
6. Post the GROUND RULES in a prominent place at every meeting held with that same group. (The chart may need to be rewritten if your original is too messy or crumpled.)
7. Refer to the GROUND RULES as needed and review them when new members join the group. Modify them as necessary.
GROUND RULES act as preferred standards of behavior. Establish GROUND RULES at the beginning of your meeting, and refer to them when needed throughout your meeting.
1. Introduce the idea and state the purpose of having GROUND RULES.
2. Show examples of GROUND RULES.
3. Lead the group in creating its own GROUND RULES. Chart the ideas.
4. When the list of GROUND RULES is complete, ask if there are any GROUND RULES that anyone cannot live with or support.
5. Agree on what measures the group will take if someone doesn’t follow the GROUND RULES.
6. Post the GROUND RULES.
7. Refer to the GROUND RULES as needed.