A session I recently led made me realize the following: holding people accountable to ground rules is not as easy as it seems when you are in the facilitator/mediator role (especially when you are working with a team in conflict).

I have always been an advocate for using groundrules and teach it regularly in conflict resolution courses for a managerial audience. As a facilitator, I more often than not establish groundrules for group interaction before diving into the content for the day. In all this I had never internalized that groundrules can sometimes be difficult to work with as a facilitator who is focused on taking a facilitative and non-directive approach in certain situations. In the case of teaching managers how to use groundrules to keep teams accountable, the need and purpose for the rules is usually well established. The managers are working with teams in early stages of forming, when the teams need directive leadership from a situational leadership point of view. Several team members may also have proved that continuous communication, informal learning conversations and feedback are not enough to elicit their cooperation and collaboration on team norms. So the need for ground rules as the next step is needed and I teach managers how to establish them collaboratively, while being clear about their expectations for holding the team accountable going forward.

Therefore, I’d also be teaching my adaptation of how to ask for behaviour change in conflict by using DISH statement – DESCRIBE the specific behaviours that violate the groundrules, share the IMPACT of the behaviour, SPECIFY the solution/request for change and share a HOPE for how that might improve the situation. This is usually followed with some form of check-in, such as: what do you think? Would that work for you? Can I get your commitment on this? In a recent conflict situation I was facilitating a small group through, I did not take my own advice. We got to a point where someone was ready to walk out and clearly violated several of our groundrules. Although I succeeded in keeping the peace and continuing to a positive resolution, I did it by being directive. In reflection, I tried to convince myself that that was my only choice but as I continued to reflect, I realized that I did have the choice to take a facilitative and developmental approach. If I had used my formula above and ended with inquiry, the person would have had the choice of saying no – and that was what I was really afraid of! That’s really why I had led by controlling the situation by being directive rather than trusting the process, intervening based on our groundrules and being willing to live with the consequeces. The reality is that developmental work requires free and informed consent AND willingness to engage. Everyone has the right and choice to engage or not – and that should be their choice!