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#934: Developing Ground Rules for Facilitated Sessions

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Updated: Friday, December 5, 2008
Although I am an experienced consultant, I am just getting started facilitating. I have tried to set ground rules but I am not sure that these are working well, since some sessions are not going well because of bad participant behaviors.

I presume you are asking about how to best manage a facilitated session using ground rules. It is important to have a set of well considered ground rules for a session. These rules should address behaviors that will encourage productive behaviors and discourage disruptive behaviors. Your goal as a facilitator is not to prevent participants from expressing themselves (or force reluctant ones to express themselves) but to ensure that their behaviors do not suppress or unduly influence the contributions of others.

There are two schools of thought on developing ground rules. First, you can do what you have done and you develop them in advance and impose them on the group. This could be done jointly with your client or you can do them by yourself. If you understand the nature of the group and have been briefed about specific individuals who may need encouragement or restraint, this usually works, especially for an experienced facilitator.

Second, you could develop ground rules with the participants of the facilitated group at the beginning of the session. This has the advantage of letting the group own the rules. You may also find out about behaviors that would benefit from moderation that you might not have known about if you developed rules in isolation.

Tip: The purpose of ground rules is to facilitate productive discussion and effective behaviors toward the purpose of the session. Instead of just pulling the sheet of paper with ground rules from you last session and stapling it to your new agenda, consider ground rules a part of your technology. Keep a notebook of ground rules, annotated after each session. describe whether rules were followed (and if you really enforced them), whether they were effective, why you selected the rule and how you came to describe them to the group. You may well collect a broad suite of ground rules that you select from as a function of the kinds of group you are facilitating.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  facilitation  process 

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