14 Ground Rules for Workshops

"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.

"Getting started is more important than being right"

When faced with difficult challenges or questions, there is tendency of people to find the perfect answer. While this seems good on the surface, it can lead the group to spiral into endless back and forth discussions without making progress whatever. "Getting started is more important than being right" reminds the group, that progress is the priority and that answers will probably emerge along the process.

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.

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.

"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!

"Defer Judgment"

Ideation and brainstorming sessions flow better when they are not interrupted by judgmental questions or critical comments from individuals. "Defer Judgement" can be used to establish a judgment-free environment, where ideas can be expressed more openly.

"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.

"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).

Parking lot

Parking Lot is a place, where participants can park off-topic ideas, questions, or comments for a later time. Establishing this as a ground rule highlights that participants can suggest on their own when to place something on the parking lot in order to keep the meeting on track and on time.