One of the issues that often arises in teamwork is that of terminology. You’re in a meeting explaining yourself using what you think are perfectly understandable words but after a bit of back and forth you realise that the others aren’t understanding what you’re saying in the way you mean it. Or worse, you don’t realise that there’s been a misunderstanding and you leave the meeting thinking everything is sorted, only to discover a while later that the team has gone off on the wrong path.
Thus the 3rd Ground Rule is:
Use specific examples and agree on what important terms mean.
This rule is all about specifics – specifics in situations and specifics in language usage.
Abstract thinking may be great for philosophy, but when we’re trying to communicate in a high-performing team and we need action, it’s so much easier for us to relate to specific concrete examples. This is especially true when we’re trying to resolve issues in the team. In these instances, a clear situational example of what happened when and by whom helps to set the context within which further discussion can take place. If you’re trying to air a grievance and you start with “you always do [insert that thing they do here]”, there’s a big chance that the person can deny your grievance, as it’s almost impossible for someone to do something all the time.
One of the first artefacts I try to establish during any project is a glossary. Besides the usual role of clarifying the meaning of terms, I often find that the glossary is also used to define the single term that the team agrees to use whenever there are multiple terms are in use in the organisation. I know it might sound silly to go to the trouble of clarifying the words we use in a project, but you’ll save yourself quite a bit of time and frustration in the long run.
This is a relatively simple rule, but it’s surprising how easy it can be to get it wrong!