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6 Tips for Developing Ground Rules in a Facilitated Session

Posted by Steve Flanagan on 2/27/14 3:00 AM
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When running a facilitated session we would like to think that common sense and good manners would prevail. This is not always the case. Sometimes in facilitated sessions, particularly those sessions dealing with contentious issues, participants can let their emotions get the better of them. In these situations it is a good practice to develop ground rules.

Ground rules are standards of behavior that are agreed upon by the facilitator and the group members at the beginning of a session. These standards are a list of the group’s expectations for acceptable behavior during the session.

Here are five basic ground rules:

  1. Only one person speaks at a time.
  2. Stay on topic.
  3. No side conversations.
  4. Confidential issues will remain in the room.
  5. Respect others’ points of view.

Notice that these ground rules are simple and direct, but are very meaningful. These are only five of many potential ground rules. It is best to limit the number of ground rules to five, as too many will slow the session down. If the participants are known to be disruptive, develop ground rules designed to prevent the disruptive behaviors seen in previous sessions.

Here are six tips for developing ground rules:

  1. Start with some basic ground rules to minimize the time spent on developing new rules.
  2. Ask the group if they would like to add any ground rules once the basic ground rules are established.
  3. Avoid making new ground rules during a session if issues arise.
  4. Get buy-in from the group for the ground rules; ask the group to help enforce the ground rules during the session.
  5. Be realistic and flexible when developing ground rules. They are guidelines, not the law.
  6. Post the ground rules on a flip chart in a visible location during the session for easy reference.

A set of reasonable ground rules will assist the facilitator in running an effective session. Even professionals might need some guidance with their conduct in a facilitated session. Ground rules are most effective when the participants are involved in their development and agree to the set of guidelines. It is better to have some simple guidelines in place to avoid issues, than to not have them when issues arise.



Steve has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education and dreamed of being a pro soccer player. Steve translated his love of soccer and physical performance to the corporate sector and became a trainer. He’s had the pleasure of training within the government, large corporations, and as an independent consultant. Outside of training, Steve’s two biggest passions are his family and guitars, which he collects and plays!

Topics: facilitation, instructional techniques

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