Extraordinary Team Blog

Cover the Bases, Establish Ground Rules

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 9, 2008

Ever wonder where the term “ground rule” comes from?

Frank Bell, a facilitative trainer says the term comes from baseball.  Each baseball park might have different conditions not anticipated in the “book rules.”  For example, when a batted ball bounces over the fence on the first bounce, the book rules declare that the play is a double.  This rule applies to all playing venues.

But at Wrigley Field in Chicago, ivy grows on one of the outfield fences.  The “ground rule” there is that a hit ball that gets stuck in the ivy and consequently becomes out of play is declared a double.  This is an example of a ground rule, not a book rule, because ivy exists only at Wrigley Field, not at Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards or Dodger Stadium.

Every team meeting should have some ground rules — explicit agreements on how the team will function in their specific ballpark.  Ground rules should be established or reviewed at the beginning of each game, before getting down to business.

As you formulate your ground rules, consider how the team is going to deal with their specific concerns such as:

  • Interruptions:  What to do when members are called out of the meeting.  How to deal with telephone calls and messages.  Will pagers and cell phones be tolerated?
  • Assignments:  If members can’t complete their “homework,” who should they notify and by when?
  • Roles:  Should the team  rotate roles?  Which ones and how often?  In the event that a team member can’t make it to the meeting, are “substitutions” allowed?
  • Decisions:  How will the team make its decisions?  Are the members aiming for consensus?  Is there a “fallback” in case the team can’t come to a consensus?  Is the team leader making the final decision?
  • Confidentiality:  Are there topics or kinds of information that shouldn’t be discussed outside the meeting?
  • Penalties:  How will the team deal with minor and chronic violations of the ground rules?

Ground rules simply cover all the bases to ensure effective teamwork.

Question:  What ground rules have you set for your team?