Working in groups works best when people have agreed on some ground ‘rules’ or guidelines for being together. Here, we will help you think about why ground rules/guidelines are helpful and how to think about setting them.

How can rules help?

Within any group environment there is also potential for conflict to arise from time to time. Rules are important to make sure that this does not happen, or if it does, that the group has a way of managing it.

Things to consider?

Having ground rules/guidelines will help decrease the chances of the following, and provide a framework for managing them if they do:

  • Conflict: It is okay, even good, when people disagree. Different perspectives can help learning and can help with coming up with a new idea or solution that you might not get to if everyone agreed straight away. Conflict, however, is not helpful. An example of a ground rule/guideline maybe to “park this topic” and bring it up again at another meeting when members have had time to think about it.
  • Strong and dominating personalities: It is great when people feel they can speak up, but also important is that everyone has an opportunity for their voice to be heard. One or several strong voices may mean that you don’t get all the information and learning that is possible, and may also discourage quieter people to speak up. An example of a ground rule/guideline maybe only the person with the talking stone can speak.
  • Shy or quiet personalities: People may be very shy, or not used to speaking, or may have complex communication needs – these things can be a barrier to speaking up for some. The safer a person feels, and the more support they have to speak up in a way that honours their needs, the more likely they are to contribute their voice to the group. An example of a ground rule/guideline could be that it is ok to just listen and participate when you feel ready.
  • Members not honouring their commitments: if people say they are going to do something and don’t, the group loses trust, and other group members have to pick up the load. Having a rule that addresses this will be very helpful to a group running well. An example of a ground rule/guideline could be that if you are finding it hard to do something from the meeting that you said you would do, ask for help from another member.

Setting the group rules

The very best way to establish ground rules/guidelines for a group is for the group to develop the ground rules/guidelines together. People will be much more likely to accept and follow ground rules/guidelines when they have had a hand in creating them, know what they are, and have agreed to them.

More information and useful links

Agreeing on a set of rules for how people behave at the peer meeting

This article on setting group rules provides some good food for thought: http://pages.jh.edu/~virtlab/misc/Group_Rules.htm

The Centre of Excellence for Peer Support (mental health) has some great resources for peer support networks: http://www.peersupportvic.org/index.php/2014-12-15-22-42-49/2014-12-16-02-22-27/Resources/

Co-authored by Queenslanders with Disability (QDN)

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The information on this page is also available as a downloadable Quick Guide, by clicking below. There are PDF and word versions.