ESTABLISHING GROUND RULES FOR GROUPS
Ground rules can be very useful indeed in group work contexts. The
following suggestions include some of the issues and starting points
from which groups can be encouraged to agree their own set of ground
- Create ownership of the ground rules. The various ground rules
agendas suggested below should only be regarded as starting points
for each group to adopt or adapt and prioritize. It is important
that groups feel able to include ground rules which are appropriate
for the particular people making up the group.
- Foster a culture of honesty. Successful group work relies on
truthfulness. Suggest that it is as dishonest for group members to
'put up with' something they don't agree about, or can't live with,
as it is to speak untruthfully. However, it is worth reminding
learners about the need to temper honesty with tact.
- Remind group members that they don't have to like people to work
with them. In group work, as in professional life, people work with
the team they are in, and matters of personal conflict need to be
managed so they don't get in the way of the progress of the group as
- Affirm collective responsibility. Once issues have been aired,
group decisions have been made as fully as possible, they convention
of collective responsibility needs to be applied for successful group
processes. This leads towards everyone living with group decisions
and refraining from articulating their own personal reservations
outside the group.
- Highlight the importance of developing and practising listening
skills. Every voice deserves to be heard, even if people don't
initially agree with the point of view being expressed.
- Spotlight the need for full participation. Group work relies on
multiple perspectives. Encourage group members not to hold back from
putting forward their view. Group members also need to be encouraged
to value the opinion of others as well as their own.
- Everyone needs to take a fair share of the group work. This does
not mean that everyone has to do the same thing. It is best when the
members of the group have agreed how the tasks will be allocated
amongst themselves. Group members also need to be prepared to
contribute by building on the ideas of others and validating each
- Working to strengths can benefit groups. The work of a group can
be achieved efficiently when tasks are allocated according to the
experience and expertise of each member of the group.
- Group should not always work to strengths, however! Activities in
groups can be developmental in purpose, so task allocation may be an
ideal opportunity to allow group members to build on areas of
weakness or inexperience.
- Help group members to see the importance of keeping good records.
There needs to be an output to look back upon. This can take the
form of planning notes, minutes or other kinds of evidence of the
progress of the work of the group. Rotate the responsibility for
summing up the position of the group regarding the tasks in hand and
- Group deadlines are sacrosanct. The principle, 'You can let
yourself down, but it's not OK to let the group down' underpins
successful group work.
- Cultivate philanthropy. Group work sometimes requires people to
make personal needs and wishes subordinate to the goal of the group.
This is all the more valuable when other group members recognize that
this is happening.
- Help people to value creativity and off-the-wall ideas. Don't
allow these to be quelled out of a desire to keep the group on task,
and strike a fair balance between progress and creativity.
- Enable systematic working patterns. Establishing a regular
programme of meetings, task report backs and task allocation is
likely to lead to effective and productive group performance.
- Cultivate the idea of group rules as a continuing agenda. It can
be productive to review and renegotiate the ground rules from time to
time, creating new ones as solutions to unanticipated problems that
might have arisen. It is important, however, not to forget or
abandon those ground rules that proved useful in practice, but which
were not consciously applied.
Source: Phil Race, "500 Tips on Group
Learning," Chapter 14. Kogan Page Limited, 120 Pentonville Road,
London, N1 9JN, UK. Distributed by Stylus Publishing Limited, 2283
Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166, USA. http://www.styluspub.com/
©Copyright, Phil Race, 2000. The right of Phil Race to be
as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance
with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Reprinted with