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  Skill of the Week

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0110 | July 22, 2003 | 8,500 Subscribers

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picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

Subsequent to the small town facilitatorion crisis I wrote about a couple of weeks back, we've formed a new personal growth group and we're starting off on the right foot this time. In the spirit of new beginnings, this week's article, "Getting Grounded With Ground Rules," explores the starting point of most healthy groups, by briefly exploring the significance of setting ground rules, a list of good rules to start with, and some strategies to improve buy-in.

At the end of this article, we announce the next scheduled offering of our ever-popular class on the basics of Facilitation, "Random Acts of Facilitation," scheduled for September 8th-12th. MFJ readers get a registration discount. See details, schedule, and testimonials at the end of this issue.

If any of you have had interesting experiences with groups as either a participant or as a facilitator, please tell us about it. We may invite you to interview with us to highlight your story as a case study for a future issue.

Thanks for your support!
Steve Davis


GAME Skill

Getting Grounded With Ground Rules
Developing and enforcing good ground rules are essential for the effectiveness of ongoing groups.

The Point

Why are ground rules important?

I see ground rules as the boundary of what I call a group's "process container." They govern the functional ways and means within which participants will engage with one another. In a world where many of our ways of communicating with each other are habitually dysfunctional, creating, committing to, and following good ground rules are huge positive step toward healthy relating. They also give the facilitator, and others in the group, implied consent to intervene when they are broken.

What role do they play in group process?

I'm involved in a new personal growth group where we spent the first two meetings just working through our ground rules. In fact, discussions around one of them, "We will test inferences and assumptions," sent us into a heated hour long discussion and quite a bit of awareness around our own personal patterns of communication.

Why would we spend so much time belaboring a single ground rule? There were moments when comments and questions like this came up during our meeting: "This is ridiculous. This is too nit-picky. We'll never get on with the real work if we keep going like this."

It's ironic that when we see the need to form a group to build a stronger team, to solve a pressing problem, to build a cohesive strategy, or to develop ourselves personally or spiritually, we get focused on "doing" something and want to bypass or rush by "how" we do it.

But it's the "how" we do it that can make all the difference in the world. How we go about defining problems and working together to solve them will often determine the quality and duration of a solution. How we communicate and understand each other contributes to the prevention or inflaming of problems in the first place. Taking the time to explore and improve how we relate and work together can give us the leverage, insights, passion, and staying power to accomplish the extraordinary.

It's our ground rules that guide how we work together. So yes, they are worth the time to pound out. And pounding them out together is when the work of becoming an effective team usually begins.


  • How do we establish ground rules?

    It's important to spend the necessary time to come to consensus on the specific rules for an ongoing group. With that said, you can always suggest ground rules you believe would be important after the group takes a cut at them, and let them decide to include them or not.

    If you're meeting only once for a two-hour meeting, you may simply suggest a few basic ground rules you believe will support your group's work together.

    When you find participants reluctant to work through their ground rules, ask this question. "Would it be worth taking some time now to unravel some of our most disempowering patterns of communicating and relating, if their awareness would positively impact the remainder of your relationships for the rest of your life?"

    What are some good ground rules?

    Here is a comprehensive list of *ground rules. These ground rules assume a group meets regularly to deal with nonordinary problems, and has sufficient time to solve them.

  • Test assumptions and inferences.
  • Share all relevant information.
  • Focus on interests, not positions.
  • Be specific--use examples.
  • Agree on what important words mean.
  • Explain the reasons behind one's statements, questions, and actions.
  • Disagree openly with any member of the group.
  • Make statements, then invite questions and comments.
  • Jointly design ways to test disagreements and solutions.
  • Discuss undiscussable issues.
  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Do not take cheap shots or otherwise distract the group.
  • All members are expected to participate in all phases of the process.
  • Exchange relevant information with nongroup members.
    Make decisions by consensus.
  • Do self-critiques.

Most groups will draw on some of the above but also include rules like the following:

- No side-talking.
- Keep what's shared in the group confidential.
- Show up on time at the start of the meeting and after breaks.
- Listen actively -- respect others when they are talking.
- Be conscious of body language and nonverbal responses -- they can be as disrespectful as words.

Buy-in and enforcement strategies.

Buy-in to ground rules is critical before you start group process. To do this, get a verbal acknowledgment from each of them and read body language to check for hesitance or an uncertain commitment. Resolve barriers to full consensus before moving forward.

Post the ground rules in the room for all to see. Refer back to them as necessary to remind the group of their commitments.

Challenge the participants on the ground rules early and often. If you do not set a tone of strict adherence to the items early in the process, it may become impossible to enforce them later.

If you are using more than two or three ground rules, try focusing on particular items during appropriate activities or discussions. For example, if you are facilitating a discussion in a large group, state before the discussion starts that you would like to focus on active listening. Challenge participants to refrain from any side discussions. The same can be done if you are facilitating an experiential activity, by introducing it as a "silent" activity.

Model these ground rules in your own participation. This is especially true for an item such as #4 (be specific, use examples). Be sure that your own language reflects ownership and responsibility by using as many "I" and "me" statements as possible.

If a particular ground rule is routinely broken, bounce it back to the participants. A fruitful discussion can often arise from a close examination of why the participants are not adhering to particular items.

Revisit the ground rules occasionally, and if time allows, ask whether the participants would like to add any new items.

And remember, you are "doing" the work of helping the group meet their objectives by processing the challenges and behavior patterns that show up around accomplishing this first major task of the group, establishing ground rules--their process container. After all, you wouldn't go out to collect gold nuggets without a bucket, would you?

* These groundrules come from "The Skilled Facilitator," Roger Schwarz, Jossey-Bass Inc., 1994, wiith permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Is there anything you need to change about the way you help a group develop or enforce ground rules? I'd love to hear from you. Please email us your comments.

Reader Survey

What are your favorite ground rules?

We'd love to hear particularly powerful ground rules you've found helpful in your groups.
Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection.


About the Publisher
Steve Davis is "The Facilitator's Coach," helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight

New 5-day Teleclass
for new facilitators and change agents.

Skills and attitudes for the new facilitator or group member who wants to get their group into serious motion.

Random Acts of Facilitation, 5-Day Teleclass

This class will meet for five consecutive weekdays September 8-12, 2003 at 10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST (NY Time) to cover 25+ facilitative actions you can take to empower and move groups forward. This course is for beginning facilitators or group members that simply want to know more about facilitation so that they can make the groups they are a part of more effective.

How the 5-Day Format/Training works...
1. You dial into your class every day for 5 days (Mon-Fri) for a 30-minute focused training segment using a conferencing bridge.
2. You work a 25-point checklist during the 5 days (about an hour a day of study and field work) which you complete by Friday afternoon, or sooner if you wish.
3. You will have the opportunity to discuss issues on the subject matter with the instructor and your classmates via an online discussion forum during the course.
4. During the week, you may access the instructor via email for help or situational questions.

5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the 5-Day course...

Introduction to the Facilitation and Self Facilitation Skills.

1. Create the Ambience.
2. Share the Dream.
3. Get Facilitation
4. Juggling.
5. Me First.

Relating with compassion and understanding.

6. Be Ignorant.
7. Make Smiles Happen.
8. Hold 'em High.
9. Acknowledge the Elephant.
10. Turn on Your Crap-Detector.

Group Dynamics and Facilitation

11. Build the Container.
12. Build trust.
13. Mine the Unexpected.
14. Evolve Your Team.
15. Honor the Process.
16. Facilitate Full Participation

Organizing and Presenting yourself confidently, professionally, and authentically. 

17. Prepare for Success.
18. Get Real.
19. Make Experiences, Not Speeches
20. Watch the Body Talk.
21. Be your message

Intervening to shift group energy

22. Tame the Tormentors.
23. CareFront.
24. Use the Struggle.
25. Break through barriers.
26. Facilitate from Within.
27. Embrace Facilitation as a Master's Path

Benefits to you of participating from the 5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training...
1. Get a great introduction to the concept and practice of facilitation skills if you are contemplating becoming a facilitator, team leader, board member, manager, mediator, etc.
2. Never waste another minute in an ineffective meeting again.
3. Learn how to challenge and empower every group you come in contact with.
4. Learn skills to help groups make quantum leaps in their effectiveness.
5. Be a catalyst for positive change in your community.

Also included with your training...
In addition to the 5-Day training described above, you also receive:
1. Free access to the participant-only website (lots of resources, forms, etc.).
2. Free access to the RealAudio version of the 5-Day training.
3. Free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value).

The full cost of training/access is only $79 for MFJ readers ($89 for the general public) including a free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value). Everything you read about above is included. And, we offer a 100%-satisfaction-guaranteed guarantee.

September 8-12, 2003, 10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST (NY Time), 45-60 minutes each day.

Please click here to register. Immediately upon completion of your registration, you will receive an email with instructions to access the course and free article bank. This course is limited to 20 individuals, first come, first served.

About the satisfaction guarantee
If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this package, simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. It's our policy to do this and we honor this in every single case. (Why? Because we are sensitive to the fact that you are buying an e-course/product from us and we feel that if this package isn't EXACTLY what you expected or wanted, that you should be able to get 100% of your money back. This policy completely removes the buying risk for you and keeps our customer-satisfaction rates extremely high.)

Real Audio Testimonials
Click here for a one-minute audio testimonial from several participants on the final day of the teleclass.


Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal. Look for your next issue on July 29, 2003.


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