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Tech#03: Agreeing real and effective team ground rules


Ground-Rules, Etiquette, Norms, Standards, Sanctions, Trust, Issues, Conflicts, Information-Sharing, Decision-Making, Meetings, Induction, Mentoring, Communications


It is important for a Team to establish ground rules for how it intends to operate

In my approach to teams I split this into two:

Ground Rules

Covering in general the negative team member behaviours we wish to discourage – this tool addresses Ground Rules.

Team Culture and Behaviors

Covering in general the positive team member and group behaviours we wish to encourage and adopt. Team Culture and Behaviors are covered in a separate tool (Tool#8).


* virtual teams

* cross-functional teams

* collaborative business networks

* virtual communities

* supply chains and clusters

Click here for a spreadsheet of typical ground rules which you can tailor for your group.

1. Objectives

* Ground Rules are the agreed position of the whole team regarding what behaviours are mandatory and what action should be taken if this is not the case (warning and sanctions).

* Ground Rules must be short, sharp, unambiguous and unanimously agreed – otherwise they cannot be enforced by the team.

* A Ground Rules document should never exceed 3 pages of A4 – its better to not have enough than to have too many!

* WARNING: Most teams set the standards too high for their ground rules - these kinds of unrealistic ground rules quickly become discredited as most people don’t comply with them and it can be very hard then to put in any ground rules whatsoever.

* Ground Rules are meaningless if not implemented. This means that warnings and sanctions have to happen early on or else the ground rules are not worth the paper they are written on

* To enable this to happen you need to make it not an embarrassment, or black mark to be warned or sanctions. This is where you can lead by example by letting yourself receive an early sanction for the sake of the team!

2. The Overall Process

Step 1. Conduct Ground Rules Team Session#1

* Allow 90 minutes

* Use the check-list as a means of asking each member of the team their opinion.

* Never do it as a group discussion – you need the individual inputs from every team member.

* An electronic meeting tool which allows everyone to type their answers and see other member’s answers is the best environment for doing this.

* After each answer you should summarise the key themes and ask supplementary questions if you need more details

Step 2. Document the Session

* There are two outputs - the unedited log of what everyone said plus a document which summarises the session question by question and identifies clearly:

a) where the group was in agreement

b) where the group was not in agreement (or answered in insufficient depth to be able to know)

* This second document requires excellent editing skills to ensure it exposes the critical points of disagreement and where there is insufficient clarity/definition. It is a summary and should not exceed 3 pages.

Step 3. Include review comments

* Circulate both documents to the participants (typically with the full transcript as an appendix to the summary) and request comments.

* Where a comment is a simple non-contentious clarification or a correction update the document accordingly.

* Where a comment is contentious or represents a further elaboration on what was said at the meeting include it in the document in a way with makes this clear.

* Re-circulate the updated document.

Step 4. Conduct Ground Rules Team Session#2

* Allow 90 minutes.

* Work through the document again question by question.

* Request quick confirmation from team on all agreed questions – don’t open these up to discussion.

* Request more discussion on other points to try and identify an agreed position.

* If discussion is not productive after a 5-10 minutes maximum identify two extreme positions which cover both ends of the argument and if necessary do an informal vote

* Don’t try and wordsmith the document as a group – capture the key points and word-smith later

Step 5. Document the Session and Reissue Revised Document

* Where necessary in this version identify two options on points which are not yet agreed and request people indicate their preference.

* If the group is split then leave both options in the document for review later – it generally becomes obvious which will work best.

* Publish the final document as Version 1.0 with the date – a living document.

Step 6. Schedule Regular Ground Rules Discussion Items

Ensure a Ground Rules item is included in one full team meeting per month

The discussion should be:

Are we having any compliance issues - If yes:

* Is it a misunderstanding?   Or

* Are the Ground Rules unrealistic in this area and require change?                 Or

* Do we need to implement the agreed warnings and sanctions?

3. Checklist

1. Trust Damagers

What will damage trust?

2. Trust Destroyers

What will destroy trust?

3. Conflicts of Interest

What are the most likely scenarios to arise and how should they be handled?

4. Team Boundaries/Member Types

What are the boundaries of the team and types of member participation (e.g. Core, Reviewer, Expert, Other)

5. Information Sharing

Where will we be transparent and where will we be private?

6. Issue Resolution

How will we resolve issues/conflicts and what will be the main stages in this practice?

7. Conflict Resolution

How we will resolve conflicts between members and what will be the main stages in this practice?

8. Decision Making Practices

Strategic, Wide Operational(affects most project members), Narrow Operational(affects only a few project members)

9. Meetings

What will be the teams meetings? Purpose, frequency, attendees and channels (face to face, phone, online)

10. Induction/Mentoring/Buddying

How will we handle new team members joining?

11. Communications Tools

Which tools will we use for which type of communications (urgent, important) and

“Reply by” Times

12. Sanctions

What sanctions will we employ and how will we agree them?

Red Card/Yellow Card,




13. Other

4. A Worked Example/Supporting Spreadsheet

This example is based on the scenario of a collaborative business network of independent companies.

These Ground Rules are a lightweight non-legally binding mutual agreement between all the members of the virtual business network. They define the minimum set of acceptable behaviours and processes to be followed by all existing and future members of the network. They will be added to and changed as required.

Ground Rule 1 – What will damage member Trust

a) not open and inclusive

b) not really adding any value in terms of meeting participation or opportunities brought

c) careless around handling confidential or proprietary information

d) not properly managing important internal commitments such as tender responses

Ground Rule 2  - What will destroy member Trust

a) not delivering their quality, requirements or timescale commitments in customer projects

b) misleading other members about their capabilities or capacity

c) trying to poach other members staff

d) bidding against the cluster in ways which other members consider unreasonable

e) deliberately misusing confidential or proprietary information

f) repeatedly damaging trust (as per ground rule 1)

Ground Rule 3 – Conflicts of Interest

a) cluster competition with core member business

It is the intention of the network to develop collaborative business which is outside the core business of the individual members. If an opportunity arises for the network with a customer of another member company then this must discussed with the member company before any decision on making a network approach/bid is made.

b) companies with the same competencies

Bids and projects will be resourced purely in terms of member capabilities/capacities (not “turns”) for satisfying the given customer requirement and if 2 or more members declare an interest which they cannot collaborate on then we will have a simple internal competition process administered in a fair and independent way (see under Bid Management Process)

Ground Rule 4 - Information sharing, transparency and privacy


The following should be openly and accurately shared between members (but not associates):

a) All l Opportunities which are shared should be shared with all members (equality)

b) Member Capabilities and weaknesses (this is a mandatory membership pre-requisite)

c) Network Project and Quality Status reports

d) Outcomes of successful bids

The following should be private (unless the owners of the information decide otherwise):

a) Specific network bid pricing and margin details (only to bid team members)

Ground Rule 5 - Issue and Conflict Resolution

We agree the following issue resolution and escalation process:

STAGE 1 - The members try and sort it out themselves – if they cant they request…

STAGE 2 - Neutral mediation involving the Cluster Leader (or another party acceptable to the conflicting members) – if this does not resolve it then…

STAGE 3 - Cluster formally notified of issue and tabled for a full cluster meeting (either a normal scheduled one or an exceptional one depending on the urgency).

STAGE 4 - This meeting will require a quorum of members present (see next rule) and the outcome will be final.

Ground Rule 6 - Decision Making

Voting Arrangements

* 1 Company – 1 Vote!

* Companies can submit proxy votes to be cast on their behalf – must be submitted on the web-site – not verbal

Day to Day Decisions

Are the responsibility of the Network Leader who will use the web-site to get opinions and keep people informed

Operational & Strategic Decisions

Will require full Cluster Meetings. Any decision must require 60% of total existing company membership who are in “good standing” to be in agreement for it to be carried. A member is in “good standing” if they have fulfilled all the joining obligations and have not been, nor are under pending consideration for expulsion from the network (Red Card – See Ground Rule 8).  The Network Leader is the sole arbiter of whether a company is in good standing membership

Ground Rule 7 – New Members

a) We want to attract new members

b) They need to meet defined criteria

c) They need to be acceptable to existing members

d) They will need mentoring and looking after

We have also agreed:

a) Criteria for potential new members = whether they bring new capabilities or capacities to the network – no geographical restrictions

b) Under what circumstances can a new membership application be rejected – any member can veto the membership of a potential new member provided they have a valid reason (in their mind) which they explain to a meeting of the other members?

Ground Rule 8 – Sanctions

We need a caution system for a member who has damaged trust

a) We need to allow a member on caution to address the issues

b) We need to be able to expel a member who has destroyed trust

We will use a Red Card/Yellow Card System – Yellow Cards will remain in place for 3 months and if a second Yellow Card is received in this period then Red Card (expulsion).

* If issues are addressed the Yellow card will be wiped at end of 3 months.

* If issues only partly addressed the Yellow card may be extended for a further 3 months.

* A member will have no loss of privilege whilst on a yellow card (e.g. Web-site access, Voting…)

Ground Rule 9 – Business Development

Each Member should

1. Bring leads to the network

2. Integrate the network into their marketing (e.g. website links)

3. Share knowledge

4. Get to know the other members and what they can do

Ground Rule 10 - Unforeseen situations

We will add to these Ground Rules as and when required to address unforeseen situations. Any changes must be formally agreed by all members


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