Agree on ground rules

Ground rules are agreements about expected behavior in meetings. The purpose of ground rules is to make explicit the group's norms about how team members will interact, thus preventing or reducing misunderstandings and disagreements. Ground rules may differ greatly by department, committee or group, but they should always contribute to the group's ability to work together effectively.

How to establish ground rules

Each group creates its own ground rules. All groups violate their own ground rules sometimes, and it is the chair's or facilitator's role to remind the group. Keep the ground rules close by. It's important that ground rules represent a consensus and are agreed upon by the entire group. They should be reviewed and updated periodically.

Some common ground rules are:

  • Turn off cell phones
  • Treat other members with respect, even in the face of disagreement
  • Send a substitute if you cannot attend
  • Bring a handout when you are making a proposal for action
  • Arrive on time

Agreeing on how decisions will be made

Another type of ground rule is agreeing in advance how decisions will be made. The most common ways that decisions are made in committees or groups are through majority rule (voting) or consensus. Both methods have their strengths and limitations. Voting is expeditious, although a simple majority may not bode well for implementation.

Consensus may take longer to achieve, but can create high levels of support for implementation. A group is considered here to have reached consensus when it finally agrees on a choice and each group member can say:

  • "I believe that others understand my point of view"
  • "I believe I understand others' points of view"
  • "Whether or not I prefer this decision, I support it (and will not undermine it) because it was arrived at openly and fairly and is the best solution for this committee or group at this time."

It is important to have agreement within any committee or working group on how decisions will be made whether by voting or consensus or some combination. This can avoid disputes later about whether or not important decisions were made properly.

UW Policy

UW-Madison's Faculty Policies and Procedures (5.11) specifies that academic departments and their executive committees must have defined operational and decision-making procedures. Departmental faculty may adopt any rules they wish for their operations. However, if rules and procedures are not specified, Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (10th edition, Perseus Publishing) is considered to be the default parliamentary manual. Where a department's adopted rules differ from Robert's Rules of Order, the department's own rules will take precedence.

See also Prioritizing As A Group