Setting Team Ground Rules

Team Ground Rules
Team Ground Rules

Do this. Don’t do that. It seems there are always rules getting in our way. But if we didn’t have rules, life – and work – would be a chaotic mess. Some people thrive on chaos. Others need complete order.

We all live within a certain set of rules in our organizations. Virtually every company has a policies handbook that is given to every new employee or consultant.

But those rules are fairly overarching and primarily generic. They are one-size-fits-all for the entire organization. When we find ourselves on a project team, we may want to be a little more specific about the rules the team wishes to follow.

One of the activities I’ve often performed as part of an internal kick-off meeting is to let the team establish their own set of ground rules. We usually write them out on a page of flip-chart paper and hang it up in the team room, or in the vicinity where all team members can see them.

Examples of team ground rules

Some of the types of rules I’ve seen teams establish are:

  • No whining – This helps to create a more positive culture within the team. If someone starts to complain or become negative in any way, team members can point to the list and call the whiner out.
  • Promptness is a sign of respect – Some team members just want to say “Be on time.” I like to word it this way to remind people why it is so important.
  • Everybody contributes – We’ve all been in that group project in school where that one person just coasts along on everybody else’s work. If you haven’t, maybe you’re that guy.
  • Silence indicates agreement – Some people like to sit on the fringes without ever providing an opinion. Then when things fail, they say that they were against it all along. A rule like this helps to ensure that people are engaged.

These are only some suggestions. Team ground rules vary based on the individuals that make up the team.  As a facilitator, I try not to create too many. Six to eight is a good list. The focus should be on making sure people are team players.

Some other suggestions when establishing a list of team ground rules:

Try not to target specific people. If some people on the team have an issue with one individual, creating a rule directed at them could be counter-productive. For instance, if someone has a hygiene issue or has an offensive smell, it’s best to deal with them individually rather than creating a team-wide rule for them.

Be positive. This should be part rules, part fun. I’ve seen team ground rules like, “Take turn bringing donuts in on Mondays” and “Superhero costume Fridays.” Try to establish rules that focus on what the team should do rather than what they should not be doing.

Objectives of team ground rules:

Establishing team ground rules accomplishes a number of objectives:

Creates a positive environment: Team ground rules should be part serious business and part fun.  They are designed more to generate a team culture than to keep people in line.

Encourages self-enforcement: Nobody gets reported to HR for violating team ground rules. Team members are encouraged to enforce the rules in more of a peer pressure environment.

Makes the team more productive: Establishing team ground rules is a way to write down the unwritten rules. The team is more productive when there’s a friendly reminder to be on time and respect each other’s’ space.

Develops team bonding: Hopefully the individuals will feel more like part of the team, which should bring the team closer together.

Establishing team ground rules at the beginning of a project is a great way to establish a strong culture among team members. The concept is more about establishing a team than setting down rules.

Hopefully the team will have fun with it and create a few inside jokes with each other in the process.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

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