Wondering About Ground Rules? Here’s an Option.

I recently taught a full-day course on Nimble Facilitation at the IAP2 Skills Symposium in Ottawa. As we reflected on the day, several participants noted one particular tool as their highlight, so I thought I’d share it here.

I often get asked how I handle ground rules in a group setting. And/or how I handle people who talk too much. My full answer is longer than you’d like to read here, but I can offer this tip:

Treat people as responsible adults.

Sometimes setting ground rules (or “WOWs” — ways of working) feels like we’re treating adults like naughty children — assuming they will behave badly even before it happens. No thanks.

I prefer trusting people to behave well.

I do like to remind them that we are each responsible for contributing to a productive session. Here is my script for doing so:

“Does anyone have a musical background. Do your know what p and f stand for? (Piano and Forte, quiet and loud).“ I draw them on a flipchart as shown here:

“We each fall somewhere on this continuum between piano and forte. You know if you tend to be a loud person or a quieter one. We all need to meet in the middle. So, if you are on the quieter side, we need you to find confidence in your voice and speak up. If you are often a talker in meetings, you may need to move more toward piano today to make space for those quieter folks to be heard.”

Notice the “we” language. We’re all in this together. Notice too that this approach creates some safety in acknowledging quite neutrally that we all have a preferred style and that the group may need us to push the edges of that preference, for everyone’s benefit. It encourages self-awareness. It also provides a shared vocabulary now available to us for the rest of the session, so that later I can say something along the lines of, “Hey piano folks – anyone willing to move a bit closer to the middle at the moment?”

Hope it helps!

6 Replies to “Wondering About Ground Rules? Here’s an Option.”

  1. What a great way to phrase it!

    We use ground rules a lot. My favourite one I heard recently was “no biting” obvious not for the literal interpretation but for the spirit of all working together. However I don’t usually get such a great light hearted start to creating “rules” but more eye rolls and silence. I love the idea of using this analogy instead and am going to try it next time!

  2. Really like this as it doesn’t label anyone. No judgement, just facts! And I am always a supporter of encouraging self-awareness and self-regulation. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing this Rebecca. I find ground rules uncomfortable and don’t use them. But I really like this more gentle approach, I’m definitely going to use it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *