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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 and Ideation Rules for Optimal Group Behavior in Meetings

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. “Be Here Now” 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 their fiduciary responsibility, they should work somewhere integrity is not valued..

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’. You will vary their use depending on meeting type, participants, deliverable, and timing. Some 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 Rules

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

ground rules, ideation rules

Ideation Ground Rules poster available at the MG Rush Facilitation Store

  • 5-Minute Limit Rule (ie, ELMO doll — Enough, Let’s Move On)
  • Accept the views of others
  • All ideas allowed
  • Be creative — experiment
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Everyone participates
  • Fast pacing, high-energy
  • No discussion
  • 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


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

Want a free 10-minute break timer? Signup for our once-monthly newsletter HERE and receive a timer along with four other of our favorite facilitation tools, free.


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 Facilitation Best Practices 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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