How to Create Strong Diverse Teams with Rules of Engagement

October 16, 2015

Last week I spent a couple days with an Emirati company devising and articulating their strategy. It was an amazing group: 5 Emirati’s, 2 Egyptians, 2 Indian’s, 2 Jordanians, a Palestinian and an American, plus a Dutchman (me) facilitating the whole event. As you can imagine their styles, experiences, outlook, aspirations, ways of expressing and decision making style were of all hues and colors.


After some exciting and a few cases of exhausting discussions I think the outcome was brilliant. It proved that diverse teams are more creative and productive as compared to more homogeneous ones.


Leading, and in my case facilitating, an ultra-divers group like this isn’t easy. Although there are many tips I could give to help get the best out of a hyper-diverse team, my secret weapon is to agree upfront on a number of rules of engagement for the team. These rules of engagements need to be spelled out and agreed at the start of a session. It gives you, the leader, the tools to make the required interventions to keep everybody on-board, contributing, in-check and the meeting moving forward.


In my opinion the 5 most important rules of engagement that can facilitate your teams are:


1. Contribute Where You Can Add Value

Every team has two kinds of people: those who love to listen to themselves and those who don’t say anything because their opinion isn’t important. This rule allows you to address both. It gives you an opportunity to encourage the ‘silent ones’ by focusing on the contribution part of the rule. And shut up, when necessary, the vocal ones by emphasizing the ‘add value’ part.


2. Respect Each Other’s Opinion

This rule is pretty straight forward and allows you to intervene when specific people are being ridiculed, taken for granted or opinions are ignored.


3. Listen to Understand

Listening in many teams and/or cultures is still one of the biggest challenges. Being vocal and competing for your ‘share of voice’ is by many individuals still been seen as the primary performance criteria in group discussions. I often state that people see listening as ‘waiting for the other to stop talking’ rather then genuinely trying to understand what the other person is trying to express. Making this a rule of engagement at least helps you make people aware of their shortcomings and allows you to intervene when required


4. What Is Said Here Stays Here

This is just like Vegas: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. To create a safe discussion place the team has to agree that what ever happens and is said in the room stays in the room. You don’t want people to be made fun of for a comment they made in a meeting at the company’s favorite watering hole.


5. 70 – 100 – 1 rule

Teams often get stuck when making decisions. Either they take ages to come to a condensed decision that everybody agrees on (most of the time, a watered down decision doesn’t achieve the desired result due to compromises that need to be made) or they force people with different views to accept a decision.


As a facilitator, and as a leader, this is a huge trap. Neither situations are desirable. To ensure that



  1. decisions are been made within an acceptable time frame, and
  2. people are being heard

I introduce the 70-100-1 rule. The idea is that for a group to make a decision, 70% of the team members have to agree. The 30% that don’t agree have the opportunity to express their disagreement and explain why. They should be given the opportunity to convince the majority. If they aren’t able to do so than it’s not their day and they have to accept the majority decision. At least they had the opportunity to voice their opinion. When the decision is taken, then every member of the team should be 100% committed to the implementation of that decision. When they leave the room they all speak with 1 voice.


So 70% agreement to make a decision, 100% commitment to the decision and speaking in 1 voice to all other stakeholders.


If you’re leading hyper-diverse teams or need to facilitate a meeting to get extraordinary results, remember your best chance of success is by agreeing upfront on a few Rules of Agreement. Apply them to ensure that the team makes progress against the agenda and all members are committed to its outcome.

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