Anyone who’s participated on a project in a team setting has probably heard the term “ground rules” tossed around. Sometime the term applies to a useful set of axioms that cooperative team members follow to guide their civil and productive interaction. Sometimes it refers to a nice poster on the wall of all company conference rooms that gets utterly ignored as people bash each other, dominate each others’ conversations and generally make life as miserable as if the poster were not tying up the wall space.
Having A Few Good Rules Wouldn’t Hurt: Today I’d like to share a few useful ground rules that I have seen work for teams that I have either lead or been a part of. I will also be totally honest and tell you that I have been on many teams where I have helped create the ground rules only to watch them slip into oblivion… so I will also share a few tips on how to make them stick.
Not all of my rules will make sense in your environment and I am sure you will have seen others that I have missed. (I would love it if you could please share your favorite team ground rules using the comment link below.)
So here are a few of my favorites:
1. Everyone’s opinion matters. That doesn’t mean everyone is right or that everyone will get their way – but it does mean that we all agree to at least listen to the ideas of others before criticizing them. We’ll encourage participation and keep the door open to more good ideas regardless of the initial source.
2. Focus on Outcomes & Results: We’ll always consider what the end result of the team’s work needs to look like as we toil. If we start to drift into a ditch, let’s call each other back to the project goals and objectives – then let that clarity guide our decisions and our work.
3. It’s OK to disagree – but do so with respect. We’ll agree to be respectful with each other even if we have differing opinions. This one shouldn’t need explanation, but sadly it has been my experience that too often it does. : o ( Sometime team members can avoid a lot of frustration downstream by carefully choosing not only their words – but their style of delivering their message.
4. Keep a United Front: Especially for projects where there is a public-facing element, it’s critical that the team members not only stay on the same page – but communicate that they are on the same page. Nothing sinks a well-developed positive message more than a few well-placed words of sabotage by “well-meaning insiders”. We’ll agree to disagree in the project room but maintain a unified front and support our joint decisions outside the room.
5. Focus on the customer. As a team, we’ll agree to consider the needs of our stakeholders as our primary focus. It’s easy to say this for a company or a team that produces a clear consumer product or service… but don’t forget that your team has internal “customers” who depend on you to get things done too. Sometimes the customer is your project’s sponsor, sometimes it’s a field user, sometimes it’s the person sitting next to you.
6. Seek consensus – Our goal for every decision will be a uniform consensus of all those involved. Since this may not always be possible, we will also have a clear escalation process to resolve any stalemates and keep momentum for the project. We’ll always have a back-up plan to get resolution on tough decisions in the event we get stuck.
7. Focus on the data and the facts. As we face challenges and solve problems, we’ll seek valid data and applicable facts from all sides of the given issue. We’ll avoid focusing on personalities – and instead keep the data and the facts in front of us as we work to get resolution.
8. Honor the time & efforts of team members. We won’t waste time in meetings beating around the bush or hacking on dead issues. We’ll use effective meeting techniques to get the work done in the absolute minimum amount of invested time. When we’re in a conversation, we’ll stick to the subject at hand and treat the other person’s time as if it is just as valuable as our own – because it is.
9. Give each other the “benefit of the doubt”. We’ll assume everyone’s best interests are focused on the project being successful – even if we disagree on how to do that from time to time. We’ll avoid offending each other and try not to take offense when none is intended.
10. Be transparent: We’ll be open about what we need and why. We’ll avoid hidden agendas and keep the main topic of conversation out on the table until it’s resolved. We’ll avoid “working in silos”. We’ll involve everyone who needs to be involved in a given topic and share the results of discussions and decisions with everyone who’s impacted.
Summary: Teams that follow a clear set of ground rules are typically more effective than those who don’t because they have a baseline of expectations for human behavior that helps them avoid common pitfalls. The list above is a starting point based on some project teams that I have lead or been a part of. I’m sure you have a few favorites that you might add to the list. If so, I’d encourage you to hit the comment link below and add to the list so everyone who visits this article can gain from your experience!
Tomorrow I will give you some tips on how to make your ground rules actually stick…
Questions for Chatter:
- What other great ground rules have you used on your teams?
- What is the biggest pitfall that teams can avoid by simply setting a few clear ground rules “up front”?
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