Extraordinary Team Ground Rules

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 5, 2012

Think back to the best team you have ever been on.  You know the one: Got great results, the team progressed quickly, and you really enjoyed working with them?  Oh yes…and wouldn’t it be great if everyone brought that same ethos to each and every team?

One of the best teams I have ever been on was the US Coast Guard Reserve Quality Team.  A rag-tag band of ten would congregate in Washington D.C. once a month for two days – and accomplish some amazing things for the US Coast Guard.  To this day, I still remember our guiding principles which explicitly described the expected behaviors of all team members:

  • The team is an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Active cooperation from every team member is vital for team success.
  • Team members must work closely together and make every effort to support one another.
  • Seek first to understand then to be understood.
  • Ask for ideas from everyone.
  • Recognize and consider those ideas.
  • Offer help without being asked.
  • Consider the needs, motivations, and skills of other team members when offering help or advice.
  • Give your undivided attention to the person speaking.
  • Respect each other by not interrupting.
  • Set a time frame on each deliverable.
  • Start on time and end on time.
  • Plan each day, every day.
  • Minimize distractions (debate).
  • Breaks – called by the team or by individual judgment, recognizing that it affects the team dynamics.
  • Be open to constructive “Reminder of Our Rules.”

And the all-encompassing guideline: Have fun & be joyous!

We would start each meeting by going around the table with each person reciting one ground rule.  At the end of the two days together, we would debrief our perspectives about what we did well and the two ground rules we could improve upon.

You too can create ground rules to guide your team to greatness.

How to Establish Team Ground Rules

  1. Explain what ground rules are and why they are important to team performance.
  2. Ask for Input. Ask the team what ground rules they have seen/used that they would like to see during this meeting.  Make sure you record the ideas on a flipchart for all to see.
  3. Check for Agreement. After everyone has listed their ideas, ask if there are any rules that they cannot live with or support.  Change as needed.
  4. Pause for Prevention.  Ask the team what measures they should take if the ground rules are not followed.  Typically, it is helpful to give them some suggestions: Three knock rule (knock three times if someone breaks a ground-rule, throw a Koosh ball at ’em, or contribute a pre-determined amount of money into a “penalty pot.”  At the end of the project or year, the team decides what to do with the money.)
  5. Post the ground rules in a prominent place at every meeting.
  6. Refer to the ground rules at the beginning of each team meeting, during the critique, and during a team intervention.

Note:  When the team is only going to meet for one specific purpose and/or a short amount of time, the facilitator can simply recommend a few ground rules and ask for agreement.

Even though that team disbanded more than twenty years ago,  I can still remember those ground rules we used in the Coast Guard.   And I bring these ground rules to each and every team I am on!  You too can use ground rules to make implicit expected behaviors more explicit to all!

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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Photo source: Depositphotos.com

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