Questions and answers from the messy/ fascinating side of equity, diversity and inclusion. 

Breathe Life into Your Ground Rules

If you're starting a fresh conversation series, or a new team, or just want your team or company to up its EDI culture game, you'll want to mini-strategize how to implement ground rules that work for your crew, that feel good and are helpful for all.  Read here about why ground rules rule, and check out the examples of my five go-to rules I use in EDI conversations and group coaching. 


  1. Don't start from scratch: You'll first want to steal a few ground rules from others and build from them to fit your crew and your work culture. Seriously, don't write ground rules from scratch -- ground rules are as old as time, lots of really smart people already use them, so I have found that my favorites have always been iterations of others' great rules. Not starting from scratch will make the next step much easier. 
  2. Balance inclusion with urgency: Unless you're an external facilitator being brought in for a day, do gather input from others on your team/ company about which ground rules to kickstart first. However, do not turn the creation of ground rules into a six month ordeal. Ask some key folks for their feedback, debate in a meeting, but do not over-deliberate. Instead, make this an iterative process: Pick a few ground rules to use as a group for a few weeks, then take 20 minutes to discuss tweaks and improvements, repeat in a few weeks or months, etc.  I say something like: "We'll experiment with this set of ground rules for __ weeks or months, afterwhich we'll huddle and iterate as needed".  Remind your crew: "We're not going for perfection, it doesn't exist. We're going for progress and iteration".
  3. Keep it short: Don't have more than 6 ground rules. The human brain can only handle so much, and you want these jams to be easy to remember and reference in daily conversations. Five is great, four is magic, six is max. Nothing wrong with three either. 
  4. Make them IRL: Human behavior is largely predicted by environmental cues, so make the ground rules part of your surroundings: Write them on the whiteboard, start your meetings with them, post them on your internal wiki pages, have someone make a needlepoint banner of them, whatever feels right.  For example, with group coaching I write them on the whiteboard as folks arrive, at every session, no matter how many sessions we have. It tells people I'm not f*$%ing around about these puppies, they are not fluff, they are the foundation for our conversations. 
  5. Make them everyone's job: I tell all group participants that it's our collective job to notice when others stick to the ground rules or veer away from them, it's not just my job as the manager/facilitator/coach/etc.  I model it heavily at first so they get the idea, saying things like, "Sam, I wonder if what you just said could be said differently, to line up better with our curiosity ground rule?". I also model high fiving each other when they are really nailing it, saying things like "Hey, Jing -- I see what you did there with ground rule #5" then proceed with high five. Us humans, like dogs, need heavy doses of positive reinforcement (in greater quantities than critique) to stick it out with every new behavior. 

Have questions? Contact me, I'm here to help.