16 Ground Rules for Group Work

"Tackle problems, not people"

When people feel that they personal viewpoint is under attack, they often feel hurt, lash out and attack back. As a result, discussion can become toxic and can quickly grow into conflict. "Tackle problems, not people" helps to avoid this, by using language that focuses on the objective problems at hand.

"Everyone participates, no one dominates"

There are always a mix of extrovert and introverted people in a meeting. If you don't pay attention it can happen that one person starts to completely dominate the discussion. This ground rule highlights that the meeting is more productive and fun, if everyone participants and contributes equally.


E.L.M.O stands for "Enough, let's move on" and can be established as a meeting rule to cut unnecessary discussions. Once stated, anyone in the meeting can say "ELMO!" at any time to indicate that it is time to move on to the next topic.

Donut Rule

The Donut Rule is a meeting guideline for the group to focus on the larger picture (donut) instead of getting caught up in things they don't have or can't control (hole in the donut). When the group focuses on the donut, instead of the hole (metaphorically) it's easier to maintain a constructive and positive atmosphere.

"Be present, or be elsewhere"

The more people zone out of a meeting, the quality of the meeting and its output will diminish rapidly. Often people do this unconsciously because they feel that the meeting isn't relevant for them. "Be present, or be elsewhere" is a good meeting guidelines to establish shared awareness and clear expectations one participants.

"Share the air"

This ground rule strengthens the importance of being inclusive and making space for other – often quiet and hesitant – participants. It's everyone's responsibility, to find ways that everyone can contribute their ideas and thoughts to the meeting.

"Agree to disagree"

"Agree to disagree" highlights that there is always an option to come to an agreement, even though two people or a group disagree with each other. How? Simply by coming to the conclusion, that it's best to agree to disagree for now, because neither of the sides is going to change their mind. After this agreement, the group can stop arguing and move on.

3x3 Rule

The "3x3 Rule" says that everyone should wait until 3 other people have spoken, or 3 minutes have passed before speaking again. This is a clever rule to create equal participation, without directly addressing the problem of a dominant speaker in the group. Based on the size of the group, this can also be adjusted to the 2x2 or even 4x4 Rule.

A & A Rule

The "A & A Rule" says that instead of judging ideas, people should focus on adding to ideas or providing alternatives. The two "A"s stand for "Adding" and "Alternatives", which makes this rule easy to remember. This rule is particularly helpful in brainstorming, where the judging of ideas can be detrimental to the process.

"Explore interests, not positions"

It's often difficult to reach an agreement in a meeting because some people are often dogmatic about their position. But if participants mutually explore the interest behind the positions, it becomes much easier to find a common ground.

"Make ideas tangible"

The more tangible ideas are, the easier it is to discuss them. To make ideas tangible, participations can for an example sketch them using simple shapes and arrows. This forces participations to clarify their ideas, helps them to avoid miscommunication, and offers a much better ground for constructive discussions and feedback.

"Don't rely on creativity"

"Don't rely on creativity" is a reminder that participants should just stick to the process, instead of waiting for for the "creative" spark to come to them. Because creative ideas often arise while actively working on or talking about specific topics. Nothing comes from doing nothing!

"Go for Quantity"

"Go for Quantity" is a great rule to establish before diving into a brainstorming session. Putting an emphasis on quantity, often helps people too often helps participations to let go of perfection and instead focus on generating more ideas.

"Think blue sky"

Blue sky thinking is brainstorming without limits. This rule can be used to encourage participants to come up with big ideas, without considering the practical constraints of day-to-day life. These blue sky ideas are often very inspirational and a great anchor point for the group to come up with similar, more feasible ideas.

"Tolerate and teach, don’t shame and blame"

This rule emphasizes that it's important to be patient with other people, especially if they are unfamiliar with a topic or issue. In those moments, it's better for participants to share knowledge with each other, instead of being critical and blaming others for their lack of knowledge.

"Be the crew, not the passenger"

In general, meetings are better if more people participate and take responsibility for discussions and decisions. "Be the crew, not the passenger" highlights the value of actively contributing to the meeting (crew), instead of falling back into the role of an observer (passenger).