How To Establish Ground Rules For Your Team by Mark Wager

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How To Establish Ground Rules For Your Team
By Mark Wager

I’ve had the wonderful honour of assisting many teams become more effective from many different industries ranging from retail to sports. While some people may believe that a team in retail is completely different from a sports team that would be wrong. The fundamental philosophy that makes a team effective is the same wherever people are involved. Some of the finer details have to be adapted to suit the different teams that make up what each industry attracts for example sports teams typically have a more narrow age range than a typical office but the philosophy of forming a team is the same. One of the key elements of a team philosophy is establishing the ground rules for how the team communicates with each other.

Effective communication is essential for any team to establish connections and to deal with challenges that inevitably arise. It’s a good investment to spend time establishing the rules within the team, even though it may seem common sense you will be surprised how many people have widely different views of what “common sense’ looks like and unfortunately common sense is not always that common.

When setting down ground rules for your team I recommend two guiding principles. One, ensure that it’s a collective decision to establish the rules. People will by nature adhere to rules that they have a say in establishing. Some managers are concerned about this approach because they feel that the team will not be as strict as they would but in my experience the opposite is true. Many teams will hold themselves accountable to a higher level of expected behaviour than the Manager would have set without their involvement. The other guiding principle is to avoid having a comprehensive set of rules that describes specific actions but rather a few basic expectations. To demonstrate I will use two examples from sports. Firstly, the New Zealand Cricket team and then I will discuss the English Rugby team.

Recently I was lucky enough to spend time with Mike Hesson the Head Coach of the New Zealand Cricket team better known as the Black Caps. Mike spoke about his approach to setting the expectations in behaviour. “I’ve been through teams that have reams of paper that sets out how we do things around here, roles and expectations but I’ve gone away from that. I prefer, this is what we are trying to achieve here’s a few basics standards of behaviour and expectations, the rest to be fair is common sense. Are you working in the best interest of the team yes or no? If you are, its simple carry on doing it. If it’s no we need to have a discussion about that. I find the more you write down and the more opportunities you have to sneak around the edges. I’ve been through that, and I don’t think it works. I think if you have genuine buy-in from the group they will know what’s right and wrong”
If you need fine detail to manage positive behaviours within your team then you have a bigger problem which is you don’t have the right people as part of your team. When Clive Woodward started his journey to World Cup glory with the England Rugby team he gathered together his management team and established the ground rules. In his book “Winning” Clive shared these rules that guided his management team.

Be open and encourage openness in others
No clichés or mumbo jumbo
Have your say
Be honest
Ensure you spend time on self-analysis
Have and show respect for other team-members
Keep it in the team
Agree to disagree in a non-confrontational way
Have loyalty for each other
Encourage a ‘no blame’ culture
No excuses
Be up front and to the point
No gossip
Don’t apologise for actions, get it right and be professional

Clive Woodward understood that as a Manager if you try to impose ground rules like the ones above not only wouldn’t you get buy-in but you may end up with a mutiny. Instead he asked questions about what were the standards that they would like to follow and wanted from their colleagues and the result was a comprehensive list. Every team will end up with a slightly different set of rules and don’t worry if the list is short, to be honest shorter is better. Whatever the discussion, you should end focussing around the principles of honesty, trust and loyalty.
Every successful team shares the qualities of honesty, trust and loyalty, all qualities that no one will disagree with but people have a slightly different perception of what these qualities look like so establishing ground rules clarifies and unites people’s perceptions and therefore unites the team.
Establishing ground rules takes time but it’s an investment that will pay dividends in the long term through creating a more effective team. Don’t treat people like children don’t tell them how to behave just point the way and they will follow.

‘talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” – Michael Jordan

About the author

Mark Wager is an international author and Leadership Coach. Mark specialises in helping organisations develop a successful, sustainable culture that enables people to perform at their best. Contact Mark if you are serious about developing your people and teams.

Posted: Monday 10 November 2014

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