Friday, January 29, 2010

Facilitate ... with Ground Rules

“Don't 'yuck' someone else's 'yum'!” Now, that’s a great Ground Rule! Using Ground Rules in facilitated discussions is something I have “turned on and off” over the years. I used them … didn’t use them … and now am back to using them.

Ground Rules are the behaviours that people in a group consciously and intentionally agree to use to enable them to work effectively together. Ground rules often cover meeting etiquette, discussion and decision-making processes, and ways that the team members interact with each other. They can range from procedures such as “turn off your cell phone” to ways of discussing such as “actively listen to each other” to values such as “treat each other with courtesy”.

Why do we use Ground Rules? All groups work to some set of procedural and behaviourial rules, spoken or unspoken. Think of times when you assumed or expected people in a meeting to behave in a certain way – only to find that they didn’t!

  • One person may think that interrupting another person when she has an important and relevant point is OK; others find the interruption rude.

  • One person may think that consensus is full agreement by everyone; another person may think it means everyone minus one or two individuals.

  • One person may feel comfortable when someone else directly challenges their opinion in a meeting; others would “curl up and die”.

  • Some people may automatically text message during meetings; others expect everyone to leave cell phones and smart phones at the door.

Taking time to clarify expectations and make them explicit in Ground Rules helps the group members to be “on the same page”; to understand how and why discussions will be held; to create an atmosphere that encourages open, respectful communication and participation; and to hold themselves and each other accountable.

Over ten years ago, I stopped using the term “Ground Rules” because the word “rules” seemed too heavy and authoritative for me! I changed to using terms such as “discussion principles, discussion do’s and don’ts, discussion guidelines”. These worked fairly well; however, did not seem to cover the full spectrum or convey the importance of group behaviours. Then, several years ago, I was introduced to the Ground Rules of “The Skilled Facilitator” by Roger Schwarz & Associates ( This facilitation approach uses nine Ground Rules which are based on five core assumptions and values. Together, the Ground Rules, assumptions and values speak to the importance of truly listening to each other, sharing all relevant information; acknowledging and being curious about how other people see things … and many other aspects of working together effectively as a group. From learning the Skilled Facilitator approach, I rediscovered the value and importance of Ground Rules and now use them again.

Ground Rules are comprehensive and profound yet also fun! Look at the Ground Rules on the poster above which I found in the blue avocado e-newsletter. As the newsletter states “Who can resist a "Ground Rules" sign for a meeting at a youth organization that includes the phrase: “Don't 'yuck' someone else's 'yum'?”

When facilitating a group, I now either introduce the group members to “The Skilled Facilitator” Ground Rules and ask their willingness to apply them to their discussion OR I help them develop their Ground Rules. I encourage them to think about logistical procedures (e.g. Start and end on time), values (e.g. What’s important in how we work together?), and discussion and decision-making techniques (e.g. We use collaborative techniques.)

My Conversation Blog Questions are: What Ground Rules do you like to use with groups and why? And what does “Don't 'yuck' someone else's 'yum'?” mean to you?!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Facilitate ... for and with resolution!

Happy New Year! As many of us start 2010 with the long-standing tradition of making (and hopefully keeping) New Year resolutions, I reflected on the meaning of the word and how I could apply to facilitation. The Webster’s New World Dictionary and Encarta Dictionary include the following definitions of resolution which I think are very apropos to the art and science of facilitation:

· The process of resolving something such as a problem or dispute
· A firm decision to do something
· Determination: firmness of mind or purpose
· The part of a literary work such as a narrative, play, novel, etc. in which the plot is explained or made clear
· The musical progression from a dissonant to a consonant chord or note

Facilitation is very much about people working as a group to resolve a problem and to make strong decisions. Each individual in the group hopefully reaches firmness of mind to support the group’s decision. In this New Year, I resolve to continue to use effective and appropriate facilitation skills to enable groups to talk about their topic of interest, to reach firm and purposeful decisions, and to enhance their ways of working effectively together.

I really like the definitions of resolution as the part of a literacy work in which the plot is explained or made clear and as a musical progression from a dissonant to consonant chord or note. I love the moment in a book in which the story becomes clear. I also love the change in sound when musicians in a band move from warming up to their first song. When applying these definitions to facilitation, I often find that there is a time in a facilitated discussion when the group members suddenly have a breakthrough, a common understanding of an issue such as a book plot becoming clear or a different way of combining information and opinions into a new “musical” sound. These moments of resolution in a group discussion lead to greater collaboration and meaningful decisions.

In 2010, I resolve to use my skills as a facilitator to help groups to achieve and create coordinated, clear, and beautiful-sounding discussions.

My blog conversation questions are: Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year? Why or why not? What experiences have you had with a group achieving a strong resolution? How might you resolve to better contribute to group discussions and decisions?