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  • Jennifer Owen-O'Quill

Ground Rules Keep Teams Healthy (But What About My Family?)

I frequently am asked to work with leadership teams to either launch a new initiative, prepare for succession, or build a new team dynamic for teams who have stagnated or where trust has broken down.

When we begin we always start by setting Ground Rules. These are the rules that this group co-creates and agrees to be accountable for as they do their work together.

Setting Ground Rules

To establish Ground Rules I ask 3 key questions:

1. What do you need from this team/your colleagues in order to perform at your best?

2. What does this team need to focus on as a whole in order to perform at our best right now?

3. How do we want to hold one another accountable for the Ground Rules we establish?

Revisiting Ground Rules

Ground Rules should be revisited regularly. I have had leaders take the Ground Rules they’ve set with their colleagues back to their own teams and share them. People write them on their white boards, include them at the tops of their agendas, and check in about Ground Rules at the opening of every meeting to be sure that the pain points between team members have a place to be addressed in healthy, open ways. They make space and a plan to maintain the healthy functioning of their team.

A Fact about Ground Rules

The hard truth is that Ground Rules will be broken. Frequently. At some point every team member steps across the line with one Ground Rule or another. The strength of a team is defined by how it responds when Ground Rules get broken. Do you say anything? How is the subject broached? Do people leave the conversation with new ideas and tools about what to do differently? Do team members “call fouls” and bring up a misstep of their own or their colleague? Are apologies offered?

Ground Rules determine the rules of the team. They help name and make explicit the boundaries of how we will treat one another. But, just like in baseball, if no one knows the rules or plays by them, they are meaningless. For more on how to referee see my next blog – “The Key to Great Culture”.

The Rewards

The best moments I have had with my team have been times when they have called me out for stepping close to or across the line with Ground Rules. (On all my teams I have included “Work at a Sustainable Pace” because I know I need help with this one. I will exhaust the team with the pace I want to keep!) I have learned so much from my colleagues when they have called my attention to the behaviors and habits that lead me to break our Ground Rules. That learning has paid off dividends in every area of my life. I am a better mom, wife and friend because of the time and attention my colleagues have paid to how we are together. What I learned at work applied at home. I needed to change my habits there too! Give Ground Rules a try on your team. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact something as simple as defining the boundaries of behavior can have on your workplace.

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