Ground rules are rules or guidelines that are established at the beginning of a meeting, activity, or other situation to help ensure that it is productive, respectful, and effective. These rules are designed to create a positive and supportive environment where all participants can contribute and participate fully.
Ground rules can be specific to a particular situation or context, such as a meeting, workshop, or negotiation. They can be tailored to the needs of the group and the goals of the activity. For example, ground rules for a meeting might include guidelines for participation and decision-making, while ground rules for a negotiation might focus on communication and conflict resolution.
In addition to promoting productivity and effectiveness, ground rules can also help to create a safe and inclusive environment where all participants feel respected and valued. This is especially important in situations where people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are coming together. By establishing ground rules, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the activity or situation proceeds smoothly.
The most common type of ground rule for meetings is a request for participants to avoid behaviors that may distract them and others such as the use of phones and consumption of food.
Rules related to respecting people’s time such as showing up, being on time and ending on time.
A rule that one person talks at a time while the others listen with intent to understand.
Step Up, Step Back
Guidelines that ask everyone to participate equally such that everyone talks and no one person dominates the conversation with long-winded speeches.
Communicate to be Understood
Rules related to clear communication such as speaking at a reasonable volume and avoiding language such as jargon that makes your message less consumable.
Get to the Point
Asking that people be clear, concise and direct.
Stay on Task
A guideline that a group stay focused on a task list such as a meeting agenda as opposed to going off on a tangent.
A rule that you follow a schedule for a meeting such as 10 minutes per item.
Rules related to affording people respect and allowing them to save face.
Specifically asking that people not insult each other. This type of rule may be viewed as condescending in a creative environment of adults where some level of wit and resilience can be expected.
Attack The Idea Not The Person
Criticizing ideas as opposed to people.
A guideline that participants try to build upon each others ideas as opposed to attacking ideas in a non-constructive way. For example, the rules of improvisation can be useful for some types of creative exercises.
Ground rules that suggest participants be tough. For example, a rule that no ideas are protected from criticism. This is appropriate for creative environments that are actually trying to get something done as opposed to echoing the status quo.
Specifically asking participants to challenge prevailing assumptions and principles.
Honesty & Openness
Asking for candor and information sharing as opposed to holding back information for some political gain.
Asking that participants fully focus on an activity as opposed to day dreaming or resting.
Encouraging participants to take risks by contributing brave ideas that may not work out.
Ask Stupid Questions
The rule that there is no such thing as a stupid question is used to encourage people to openly acknowledge when they don’t understand something. Pretending to understand is a common social behavior that results from a fear of looking unintelligent. This can cause a variety of problems, in the worst case an entire group may not understand an important piece of information with everyone pretending to understand.
A rule that information shared not leave the room or if it does leave the room that no names be associated with the information.
Creativity of Constraints
Ground rules may encourage participants to tear down assumptions to allow far-fetched ideas to surface. Alternatively, ground rules may impose constraints designed to spark creativity. For example, a rule that all proposed solutions to a problem be implementable in a week.
Problems Are Opportunities
A request for an optimistic and constructive approach to problem solving.
Ideas Are Validated
A request for defensive pessimism.
Look To The Future
A guideline that a conversation avoid dwelling on the past or present to look at how the future can be different.
Ground rules may include principles that will be used to guide negotiation or idea generation. For example, ground rules for divorce mediation that state that a child’s needs will be put first in all decisions.