Setting Team Ground Rules: A Key Topic in the PMP Exam

  • Project Management
Created on :
July 31, 2023
Saket Bansal
Updated on :
August 9, 2023

In this Article

Creating the right environment for people to work together is a big part of project management success. After all, people do all the work, and when they can work well together, they can achieve great things for the project. Recognizing this, the PMI has included many tasks related to the people domain in the PMP exam. In this article, we’re going to talk about one of these tasks – setting team ground rules in project management. This task is really important for successful project management and focuses on three main areas: sharing the organization’s main ideas, making a good space for these rules, and dealing with situations when these rules are broken. 

Communicating Organizational Principles

At the heart of any project, communication stands as a fundamental pillar, binding all stakeholders and team members involved. As the conductor of the orchestra, a project manager needs to ensure the vision and values of the organization are well understood and consented to by all. This task involves creating a mutual understanding among all participants about how the project’s pieces fit together, including the project’s primary values and vision.

The importance of this shared comprehension is immense, extending beyond mere project goals. It includes the organization’s core values and ethics, acceptable behaviors, and the overarching communication structure within the project. It is the project manager’s duty to use every opportunity to ensure this high-level understanding is communicated and agreed upon, thereby harmonizing the team’s efforts towards a common goal.

Establishing Ground Rules

A key part of communicating organizational principles lies in establishing team ground rules. These rules act as a framework, facilitating a culture of shared understanding and streamlining the project’s processes.

Team members should have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. This clarity helps in managing expectations and coordinating efforts for more productive outcomes. These roles can be quite fluid, depending on the project’s life cycle. For instance, a predictive life cycle may have clearly defined roles, while an adaptive life cycle may involve roles and responsibilities that keep changing.

The project manager’s role here is to facilitate this process. They do not necessarily dictate the roles but help the team understand what they can expect from each other. This clarification extends to the mode of internal communication, the frequency of meetings, and the nature of reviews to be done.

Tools for Defining Team Ground Rules

Various tools can facilitate the process of defining team ground rules. These tools can help create a common understanding of project goals and vision, such as a project charter or contract. Frequent reviews, kick-off meetings, and stakeholder involvement are other effective strategies to ensure everyone remains aligned with the project’s objectives.

At the team level, tools such as the RACI matrix, team charter, and ground rules can be instrumental in understanding roles and responsibilities, managing work, and ensuring effective team communication.

A project manager can use these tools and strategies to create a shared understanding of what the project aims to achieve, how it aims to achieve it, and what is expected from each team member and stakeholder involved in the project.

Team Charter

Often confused with project charters, team charters focus on entirely different objectives. Project charters aim to create stakeholder level understanding about the project’s goals, limitations, financial resources, milestones, and expectations. On the other hand, team charters focus on team interaction, providing mechanisms for team collaboration, decision-making, work distribution, and a clear understanding of how to work well together.

Creating an effective team charter requires a project manager to facilitate rather than dictate. The charter includes behavioral guidelines, ground rules, and working agreements that help in organizing people and creating a collaborative work environment.

Components of a Team Charter

A team charter may contain several components that can guide the team’s actions and behaviors. Here are some common sections of a team charter:

  • Team description: A brief about the team, their scope of work, and high-level roles and responsibilities.
  • Team members and roles: Detailed information about the members of the team and their specific roles and responsibilities.
  • Shared values: The values that the team collectively agrees to guide their behaviors and decision-making.
  • Behavioral guidelines: More specific guidelines about expected behaviors, like updating work before leaving for the day, respecting others’ opinions, and attending meetings on time.
  • Ground rules: Guidelines for communication, use of tools, and work protocols. They also include specific instructions for situations like missing meetings or handling high-priority tasks.
  • Conflict resolution and decision-making: Guidelines about how conflicts are resolved within the team, when conflicts should be escalated, and the process for escalation.

The aim of a team charter is to create a shared understanding among team members about how to manage their work. It empowers the team to self-organize, reducing their dependence on the project manager and enabling them to work more efficiently.

Adherence to Ground Rules

Day-to-day working in any project management environment demands the establishment of ground rules that foster adherence and commitment. Ground rules should not merely exist but should be followed faithfully to ensure smooth project operations. A project manager should cultivate an environment that upholds ground rules and manage and rectify any violations.

When disagreements arise over organizational principles, the project manager’s role is to ensure common understanding is reestablished. This process may involve using various tools and artifacts to communicate the project’s value, vision, ethics, and development approaches.

Facilitating Team Charter Creation

The first step towards establishing ground rules is facilitating the team in creating their own team charter. This not only engages the team but also promotes a sense of ownership and commitment. The project manager acts as a guide, allowing the team to decide on their way of working, collaborating, and listening to every team member’s opinion. This inclusivity culminates in an agreed-upon team charter that provides the basis for ground rules.

Project Manager as a Role Model

To foster adherence to ground rules, the project manager must lead by example. This includes demonstrating adherence to meeting times, following up on the meeting’s minutes, and abiding by the agreed-upon work schedule. By doing so, they create a cascading effect, motivating team members to adhere to the ground rules consistently.

Implementing Transparency and Structure

Ensuring adherence to ground rules also involves establishing a transparent and structured process. This could involve tracking the frequency and effectiveness of meetings or providing visible reminders for adherence to specific agreements. In cases of non-adherence, these structures offer a clear reminder of what is missing, prompting team members to rectify any lapses.

Consistent Enforcement

Consistent enforcement of ground rules is essential to maintain discipline and avoid fostering an environment where rule violations become a norm. If certain rules are no longer applicable, they should be revisited and removed, but as long as they exist, adherence should be consistent and unfaltering.

Periodic Review and Feedback

Providing a mechanism for periodic reviews and feedback is essential in managing ground rules adherence. Regular retrospective and lessons learned meetings facilitate these reviews, allowing updates to the ground rules and team charter when necessary. Providing feedback ensures that violations of ground rules are brought to light and addressed by the team, encouraging collective responsibility.

Onboarding and Disciplinary Action

New team members should be facilitated in understanding the ground rules and their processes. However, in case of persistent violations even after multiple feedback sessions and reminders, disciplinary action may be necessary. The project manager has the responsibility to ensure smooth project operations, which might involve removing a persistently non-adhering member.


To conclude, defining team ground rules is the bedrock of effective project management. By effectively communicating organizational principles, establishing a conducive environment for these principles, and managing any violations to these principles, a project manager can ensure a harmonious and productive environment, ultimately steering the project towards successful completion. This careful balance of facilitation, enforcement, and leadership paves the way for a prosperous and harmonious working environment. If you are preparing for PMP Exam, consider enrolling on our Live PMP Sessions to speed up your PMP Preparation.

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