Use ground rules to help manage individual and group behavior during meetings and workshops. You can lead meetings and discussions without ground rules, but did you ever leave an unstructured meeting with a headache? The term “discussion” is rooted similarly to the terms “concussion” and “percussion.” A little bit of structure will ensure that you get more done, fast.

Primary Ground Rules

Consider a few, select ground rules for every meeting, regardless of your situation. We consider the following four ground rules so important we use them in every meeting or workshop.

Ground Rules Help Manage Meeting Behavior

Ground Rules poster available at the MG RUSH Facilitation Store

1. Be Here Now

First and foremost, speaks to the removal of distractions and getting participants to focus. Typically demands that electronic leashes be reined in—i.e., phones on stun mode, laptops down, be punctual after breaks, pay attention. The hardest thing to do with a group of smart people is to get them to focus on the same issue at the same time.

Your job is to remove distractions so that they can focus.

2. Consensus means “I can live with it”

We are NOT defining consensus as everyone’s favorite or top choice. Nor are we suggesting that our decisions will make everyone ‘happy.’ We are facilitating to a standard that everyone can professionally support. Participants agree they will NOT try to undermine the results after the meeting ends. If so, they are guilty of displaying a lack of integrity. We strive to build agreement that is robust enough to be considered valid by everyone. No one should lose any sleep over the results.  Remember however, it may not be their ‘favorite’ course of action.

3. Silence or absence implies consensus

This ground rule applies to structured, for-profit situations and NOT necessarily unstructured, political or social meetings. During our standard business meetings, participants have a duty to speak up. It remains the primary responsibility of the facilitator to protect all the meeting participants. It is NOT their job to reach down someone’s throat and pull it out of them. If participants have information to bear in a discussion, then it is their responsibility to share it. Participant involvement is their obligation, not simply their opportunity. Their silence speeds us up since we don’t have time to secure an audible from every participant on every point discussed in a meeting. Their silence indicates two positions that need to be stressed by the facilitator, namely:

  • They will support it, and
  • They will not lose any sleep over it.

If either is not true, shame on them—they are being paid to participate. If they cannot accept this responsibility, they should work somewhere else.

4. Make your thinking visible

People do not think causally. They think symptomatically. Two people eating from the same bowl of chili may argue over how “spicy” it is. Note, they seldom argue about verbs and nouns. Rather they argue about modifiers (eg, adjectives and adverbs). They subjectively argue about spiciness. To one, the chili is hot. To the other, it is not. They are both right. A great facilitator will get them to ‘objectify‘ their discussion so that they both can agree that the chili is 1,400 Scoville Units. They don’t think Scoville Units however, they think ‘hot”. As facilitator you must challenge them to make their thinking visible.

Secondary Ground Rules

We refer to other ground rules as ‘situational’ in that you will vary their use depending on meeting type, participants, deliverable, and timing. Some of the secondary meeting ground rules we have found particularly effective are shown below. We don’t have space to discuss them all but our favorites, based on frequency of use, are italicized:

  • Be curious about different perspectives
  • Bring a problem, bring a solution
  • Challenge (or, test) assumptions
  • Chime in or chill out
  • Discuss undiscussable issues
  • Don’t beat a dead horse
  • Everyone has wisdom
  • Everyone will hear others 
and be heard
  • Focus on “WHAT” not “HOW”
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Hard on facts, soft on people
  • It’s not WHO is right; It’s WHAT is right
  • No “Yeah, but”—Make it “Yeah, AND…”
  • No big egos or war stories
  • Nobody is smarter than everybody
  • No praying underneath the table (ie, texting)
  • One conversation at a time (Share airtime)
  • Players win games, teams win championships
  • Share reasons behind questions and answers
  • (or,) Share all relevant information
  • Speak for easy listening—headline first, background later
  • Team is responsible for outcome
  • The whole is greater 
than the sum of the parts
  • Topless meetings (ie, phones on stun, no laptops)
  • We need everyone’s wisdom

Ideation Ground Rules

There is an entirely different set of ground rules that should be used during the Ideation step of the Brainstorming tool. While covered in detail in another newsletter, we are providing the list below for your convenience.  With these or any of the above, do not hesitate to comment for additional explanations:

Ground Rules

Ideation Ground Rules poster available at the MG Rush Facilitation Store

➢ No discussion

➢ Fast pacing, high-energy

➢ Accept the views of others

➢ All ideas allowed

➢ Be creative — experiment

➢ Build on the ideas of others

➢ Everyone participates

➢ No word-smithing

➢ Passion is good

➢ Stay focused on the topic

➢ Suspend judgment, evaluation, and criticism

➢ The step (or workshop) is informal

➢ When in doubt, leave it in

➢ 5-Minute Limit Rule (ie, ELMO doll — Enough, Let’s Move On)


Finally, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on providing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices methodology and tools before class concludes. Some call this immersion. We call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH Professional Facilitation Training provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, and 3.2 CEUs. As a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), our Professional Facilitation. Therefore, our training aligns with IAF Certification Principles and fully prepares alumni for their Certified Professional Facilitator designation.

Furthermore, our Professional Facilitation curriculum immerses students in the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH  Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world, see MG RUSH  for a current schedule.

Go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources. You will discover numerous annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. Finally, take a few seconds to buy us a cup of coffee and please SHARE.

In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.


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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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  1. Value your definition of consensus, not a state of making everyone ‘happy’ so much as content. All too often it’s impossible to find the perfect solution that thrills everyone so it makes sense to strive for a decision that at least everyone supports.

    • Agreed wholeheartedly. Few people realize the importance of controlling the operational definitions of terms they use in the role of facilitator. If you seek to build consensus, you better know and be able to describe what it is you’re building.

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