November 14

The Call to Collaborate is Irrevocable | WT #28


Have you ever been on a project team and felt the ground rules included some of these phrases?

  • I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.
  • Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
  • E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.
  • I’m not being rude. You’re just insignificant.

If you want to be truly collaborative, you must have Ground Rules and Rules of Engagement to help organize a team’s efforts to answer the call to collaborate and give it your best shot.

People often confuse the two terms and it’s important for a project team to define them and create a common collaborative language from the beginning.

Differentiating the Terms

Contrary to popular belief, Ground Rules are about managing yourself. Following ground rules is doing the things behaviorally that shouldn’t have to be said or written down. They are basic behaviors you can ask someone to start or stop doing once, and that’s all it should take.

Rules of Engagement are about managing your interactions with others.

Ground Rules is a basic idea, whereas Rules of Engagement is a step-up because it involves others and it takes work and accountability.

Context Matters

This week's focus will be on Ground Rules. I’m going to give examples of Ground Rules using two different scenarios – my family and a project team. Interesting enough, project teams tend to mirror families. So, in many ways, using the context of family can help project teams better understand the value of answering the call to collaborate.

Examples of Ground Rules

At our house, family ground rules at dinner time include each child helping out:  Molly pours drinks, Aidan sets the table, and Joseph clears the table.

In a project team, Ground Rules may include preparing for meetings, showing-up on-time and silencing your mobile device.

Here’s what it looks like in practice. . .

One of the project teams I’m working with wanted to become more collaborative but didn’t have a common collaboration implementation language. They were confusing Ground Rules with Rules of Engagement. They had a packed, two page, single-spaced, 8-point font document full of well-intentioned statements which they called “Rules of Engagement.”

In reality, these statements were actually Ground Rules for the most part. One example:

“The first response to a new idea should never be ‘no’ and avoid spending too much meeting time on one topic.”

So, we combed through the original document and pulled out the statements that were truly Ground Rules, per our definition. We gave a copy of this list of Ground Rules to everyone to talk about and read and we filed away the master copy in a drawer for safe keeping. Ground Rules are basic ideas, so after talking about them and writing them down once, we shouldn’t have to reference this master copy on too many occasions.

You have to start somewhere and identifying and defining Ground Rules is a great start. As you can see, Ground Rules help hold together a group of people like a family or a project team and help it function in a more collaborative manner to solve problems.

The call to collaborate in either scenario is irrevocable. You are compelled to answer it in all your interactions every day. Answer the call and give it your best shot!

About the author 

Darren Smith

Darren Smith is Co-Founder of the Authentic Leadership Institute. He is a native Texan and a graduate of Dallas Jesuit and Texas A&M University. Over the past 25 years, Darren has visited 35 countries and led 100 strategy programs. He and his wife have five children.


You may also like

The Truth about the Truth | WT #83

The Truth about the Truth | WT #83