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Workshop and meeting ground rules
Tons of examples here for you to use
Ground rules are guidelines that participants in a meeting or workshop agree to follow in order to make the meeting or workshop more productive and enjoyable. Common ground rules include things like being respectful of other participants, not interrupting, and staying on topic.
This is so important yet very easy to miss. Luckily, it takes very little effort. All you need to do is make your ground rules clear to the participants up front.
You’ll save yourself a lot of questions that would otherwise interrupt the flow of your workshop. Moreover, if you don’t make ground rules clear up front, your participants might be annoyed when you tell them that there is a no-devices rules when you see them using their phone during the workshop.
Do it all up front and you’ll be able to remind people of the rules later without losing the trust of your participants.
Here you can find a list and overview of some workshops and meeting ground rules. Pick max 5 - 10 ground rules, use and enforce them wisely!
Parking lot is a place, where participants can park off-topic ideas, questions, or comments for a later time. Establishing this as a ground rule highlights that participants can suggest on their own when to place something on the parking lot in order to keep the meeting on track and on time.
No devices allowed (computers, mobiles, tablets…) during the meeting or workshop. All devices should be collected in the same stop (a drawer, cabinet…) at the beginning of the meeting or workshop.
Be present, or be elsewhere
The more people zone out of a meeting, the quality of the meeting and its output will diminish rapidly. Often people do this unconsciously because they feel that the meeting isn't relevant for them. "Be present, or be elsewhere" is a good meeting guidelines to establish shared awareness and clear expectations one participants.
Go for quantity and not for quality
"Go for quantity and not for quality" is a great rule to establish before diving into a brainstorming session. Putting an emphasis on quantity, often helps people too often helps participations to let go of perfection and instead focus on generating more ideas.
Ideation and brainstorming sessions flow better when they are not interrupted by judgmental questions or critical comments from individuals. "Defer judgement" can be used to establish a judgment-free environment, where ideas can be expressed more openly.
Think blue sky
Blue sky thinking is brainstorming without limits. This rule can be used to encourage participants to come up with big ideas, without considering the practical constraints of day-to-day life. These blue sky ideas are often very inspirational and a great anchor point for the group to come up with similar, more feasible ideas.
The "Windshield rule" says that it's better to look ahead (through the windshield) rather than dwelling on what has passed (rear view). It's a great meeting rule to put the group into a forward-looking mindset.
“Together, alone” is when even though a team of people are sitting together at the same table, they are essentially working individually. This is the best way to avoid being influenced and biased by your colleagues.
Everyone participates, no one dominates
There are always a mix of extrovert and introverted people in a meeting. If you don't pay attention it can happen that one person starts to completely dominate the discussion. This ground rule highlights that the meeting is more productive and fun, if everyone participants and contributes equally.
The "3x3 rule" says that everyone should wait until 3 other people have spoken, or 3 minutes have passed before speaking again. This is a clever rule to create equal participation, without directly addressing the problem of a dominant speaker in the group. Based on the size of the group, this can also be adjusted to the 2x2 or even 4x4 Rule.
Be the crew, not the passenger
In general, meetings are better if more people participate and take responsibility for discussions and decisions. "Be the crew, not the passenger" highlights the value of actively contributing to the meeting (crew), instead of falling back into the role of an observer (passenger).
Share the space
This ground rule strengthens the importance of being inclusive and making space for other, often quiet and hesitant participants. It's everyone's responsibility, to find ways that everyone can contribute their ideas and thoughts to the meeting.
Getting started is more important than being right
When faced with difficult challenges or questions, there is tendency of people to find the perfect answer. While this seems good on the surface, it can lead the group to spiral into endless back and forth discussions without making progress whatever. "Getting started is more important than being right" reminds the group, that progress is the priority and that answers will probably emerge along the process.
Agree to disagree
"Agree to disagree" highlights that there is always an option to come to an agreement, even though two people or a group disagree with each other. Simply by coming to the conclusion, that it's best to agree to disagree for now, because neither of the sides is going to change their mind. After this agreement, the group can stop arguing and move on.
Disagree without being disagreeable
"Disagree without being disagreeable" means that it's fine to have a different opinion, but that participants should express their disagreement to each other in a constructive way. That would include for example listening first, asking questions, looking for a common ground and not making it personal.
Strong opinions, loosely held
The idea "strong opinions, loosely held" is that anyone is allowed to express their strong opinions, but at the same be open to change their mind if they new data suggests that they might be wrong.
Discuss undiscussable issues
Undiscussable issues are those issues that are on everyones mind, but no one is able to bring them forwards. Most often because they are afraid of the consequences or think the context isn't the right one to address the issue. "Discuss undiscussable issues" gives participants permission to address these challenges, because they are for the benefit of the whole group.
Tackle problems, not people
When people feel that they personal viewpoint is under attack, they often feel hurt, lash out and attack back. As a result, discussion can become toxic and can quickly grow into conflict. "Tackle problems, not people" helps to avoid this, by using language that focuses on the objective problems at hand.
Seek first to understand, not to be understood
Normally, we do this in reverse. Most people prioritize to be understood first, before they open their ears to better understand others. This can have a negative impact on the meeting. Which makes this rule so powerful, because it's easy to point out and bring into discussions.
Tolerate and teach, don’t shame and blame
This rule emphasizes that it's important to be patient with other people, especially if they are unfamiliar with a topic or issue. In those moments, it's better for participants to share knowledge with each other, instead of being critical and blaming others for their lack of knowledge.
Explore interests, not positions
It's often difficult to reach an agreement in a meeting because some people are often dogmatic about their position. But if participants mutually explore the interest behind the positions, it becomes much easier to find a common ground.
Lean into discomfort
Great discoveries, learnings, and transformations can be made when participants leave their comfort zone. This ground rule helps to draw out participants to embrace discomfort. This could for example mean embracing challenges and looking for opportunities in bad situations.
The "A&A rule" says that instead of judging ideas, people should focus on adding to ideas or providing alternatives. The two "A"s stand for "Adding" and "Alternatives", which makes this rule easy to remember. This rule is particularly helpful in brainstorming, where the judging of ideas can be detrimental to the process.
E.L.M.O stands for "Enough, Let's Move On" and can be established as a meeting rule to cut unnecessary discussions. Once stated, anyone in the meeting can say "ELMO!" at any time to indicate that it is time to move on to the next topic.
W.A.I.T. stands for "Why Am I Talking?". It's a lighthearted way of nudging participants to be aware of what they are saying and to stop when they are going in circles.
Make ideas tangible
The more tangible ideas are, the easier it is to discuss them. To make ideas tangible, participations can for an example draw or sketch them using simple shapes and arrows. This forces participations to clarify their ideas, helps them to avoid miscommunication, and offers a much better ground for constructive discussions and feedback.
Don't rely on creativity
"Don't rely on creativity" is a reminder that participants should just stick to the process, instead of waiting for for the "creative" spark to come to them. Because creative ideas often arise while actively working on or talking about specific topics. Nothing comes from doing nothing!
Use “I” statements
Participations often fall into patterns of using language that generalizes assumptions and opinions for everyone. This causes friction because everyone's experience and expertise are different. Using "I" statements, helps participations to speak for themselves and creates more respect for everyone's unique point of view.
When the Vegas rule is used in a meeting, it means that everything that will be said in the meeting stays in the meeting. As you may guess, this comes from the original saying "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".
Chatham House rule
The Chatham House rule is an alternative to the Vegas rule. Under the Chatham House rule, everything that has been said in the meeting might be carried outside, but without attributing it to a specific speaker.
The donut rule is a meeting guideline for the group to focus on the larger picture (donut) instead of getting caught up in things they don't have or can't control (hole in the donut). When the group focuses on the donut, instead of the hole (metaphorically) it's easier to maintain a constructive and positive atmosphere.