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A Team’s Cornerstone You May NOT Know About
June 07, 2016

The Rules of the Game

If you are reading these lines – it is very likely that you might’ve played (at least once) football, baseball, volleyball, or basketball – haven’t you?

Or possibly you might’ve played (at least once) tennis, golf, or water polo.

Or – if you haven’t played any of these games – perhaps you might’ve played (at least once) chess, checkers, or monopoly.

My point is this

If you have ever played a game – any game – a game has always rules: The rules of the game – or ground rules.

If you didn’t have these ground rules – it would be impossible to play the game, wouldn’t it?

It is precisely by obeying these ground rules that you and your playmates had fun – lots of fun in fact.

The game would NOT be enjoyable without its ground rules.

The team you lead is no different

In the case of the team you lead – its purpose is two-fold:

First: To make the best possible decisions.

And second: To flawlessly execute such decisions.

In order to accomplish your team’s purpose – the team you lead needs to have crystal-clear ground rules as well.

What is a ground rule?

A ground rule is a clear and specific behavior guideline that has been agreed through dialogue and consensus by your entire team – all of your direct reports and you.

And of course – all of your ground rules must be aligned with both your organization’s values and your organization’s strategy.

As obvious as the existence of these ground rules might seem – most of the managers I have worked with throughout my entire career had no explicit ground rules for their teams.

All of their teams had implicit norms of behavior – yes. But this is hardly enough.

An implicit norm of behavior – and an explicit ground rule is not the same.

Far from it.

Implicit norms of behavior by default are the result of inertia – whereas ground rules are the result of an ongoing process.

You don’t craft your ground rules in one day – and all is well and done.

Specific ground rules are the result of intense and focused thought, continuing dialogue and intentional practice.

The rules of the game – any game (chess, football, tennis) – took years (even centuries in some instances) in the making.

I am not suggesting that you take centuries to build your team’s ground rules – however – I am suggesting that you do take the time to properly and carefully craft them.

How about only one hour every three months?

Your team’s ground rules will make it explicitly clear what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are unacceptable concerning decision-making, execution, resource allocation, feedback, supervision, etc. (anything that is applicable to your team).

When your team members commit to your agreed ground rules – your team will most likely decrease misunderstandings and increase productivity.

All this in exchange for only one hour every three months? Heck – I’ll take it any time!

To get started, lock your team into a room with a couple of flipcharts and a few markers – and then you will write three lists:

On the first list you are going to brainstorm all the existing behaviors (by team members – including yourself) that positively impact your team’s productivity.

On the second list you are going to brainstorm all the existing behaviors (by team members – including yourself) that negatively impact your team’s productivity.

And on the third list you are going to brainstorm all the corresponding ground rules (just make sure you write these ground rules in behavioral terms).

This might be a messy process …

You want dialogue, discussion – and your team will need to make a few decisions.

Be inclusive – do your best to get the full participation of every single team member regardless of how introvert they might be.

If you are looking for 100 per cent buy-in – you want everybody’s ideas, suggestions, point of views and arguments. Don’t let anyone off the hook.

And finally – make sure all team members agree that all team members will share responsibility for enforcing these ground rules once they are agreed upon and established.

You want to create team accountability – you don’t want to find yourself bossing around your team.


Ground rules are a cornerstone of any high performing team.

Take the time to establish them. It is well-well worth it indeed.

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See you next month!
Joseluis Romero - Publisher
June 7, 2016. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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