Ground rules?

Lynn Walsh is not a fan of the ritual where a group is invited to agree a set of ground rules about behaviour at the start. She indicated this to a group by writing the word “Agreements” on a flip chart and then drawinga line through it.

At the end of the two days, when everyone was reflecting on their experiences of the workshop, someone said “I really liked how we didn’t have any rules on how we should behave. It felt like we were being treated as responsible adults”

I tend to agree, though as ever it depends on context. Agreeing rules, like any intervention, is a probe into a complex system and can have unexpected consequences.

For instance, in some groups, there’s a confidentiality agreement at the start and that can make for a greater sense of safety. But in other contexts, I find that discussion at the start just increases anxiety: there’s pressure now to come up with stuff worthy of such confidentiality pacts. And tacit assumptions about respecting others’ privacy are sometimes undermined by making everything explicit. Often groups can easily agree guidelines and rules as they go along, as the need arises.

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