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Facilitation and Conflict - Ground Rules

December 9, 2022

This is the second part of the four-part series on conflict. In the first part, we explored why we need conflict. In this post, we will explore how to establish clear boundaries at the start of the event to provide the tools and environment that will enable you as a facilitator to navigate through conflict. 

There are four parts to this series: 

1. Why we need Conflict 

2. Ground Rules for effective conflict facilitation  

3. Objective evaluation of Ideas  

4. How to Navigate Conflict 

Establishing Ground Rules 

When bringing a group of people together, having explicit agreed constraints around how everyone will interact during the event sets an expectation that can be used throughout the event. 

Explicit Permission 

It is easy to overlook, however in my experience it is a very powerful moment when you ask the permission of the group to facilitate. Explicitly state what you will be doing as a facilitator. I ask for permission to: 

  • Hold the agenda 

  • Keep a focus on movement 

  • Call out when a topic should be parked 

  • When I see conflict to call it out 

  • Manage the time 

  • Hold a balance of voices – seek permission to nominate people (and use techniques that allow people to contribute without speaking to the whole room) 

There are some groups where it is a novel practice for someone to hold this space. It is critical that you highlight that you are neutral and if you have some investment in a perspective. This will require some active non-engagement from you: 

  • Don’t add items to the boards (for example adding a sticky). You are there to see the work is done, not to do the work. 

  • Be clear when you are summarising what you hear in the room and when you are offering your view 

  • Help every voice in the room be heard 

  • Don’t edit the words used without permission. If you paraphrase to summarise check back to ensure that your edits are acceptable to the group. 

One technique is to use the POWER start ( to outline the flow of the event from the outset. 

Event Working Agreement 

Take the time to formulate a clear working agreement for the event. This should help make explicit how the group will operate for the event. In stable teams that have recurring events (a Scrum Team or similar). When there is a more stable team it is definitely worth taking the time to forge a standard way of working. Christiaan Verwijs has a detailed blog here 

For a singular event (workshop, training) taking the time for the group to create a working agreement is extremely helpful.  

Working Agreement Flipchart
Working Agreement Flipchart

Invite the group to break into smaller groups (around 4 people) and build items that they would be prepared to commit to. Have suggested topic areas, and after a short discussion time, bring all the groups together to agree the wider agreement. 

Electronic Canvas Working Agreement
Electronic Canvas Working Agreement

Topic areas to guide the participants on include: 

  • Timings 

  • Breaks 

  • Photos/Cameras 

  • Technology 

  • Engagement 

  • Confidentiality (chatham house/Las Vegas rules) 

  • Facilitator expectation 

I have found it extremely useful to introduce a breakout word to close errant conversations. The acronym ELMO (Enough Let's Move On) is immensely helpful for this. I worked with one team where the word “pineapples” was used to remind everyone to get back to the agenda! 

Call to Action 

When facilitating events, take the time to craft a working agreement with the group. In multi session events, check back in each session to offer the opportunity to review the working agreement. 

How will you use working agreements? 

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