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Ground Rules for Successful Teamwork and Collaboration

Rome wasn't build in a day and we all know it takes successful partnerships, collaborations and negotiations to build and maintain an empire. As no man is an island and nothing physical can manifest if it stays purely in the mind of an individual.

This is the context in which I begin setting the stage for my team coaching and it is also applicable in one-to-one coaching sessions where we put on respectful and growth mindsets.

Setting the stage is laying the ground for success. Teamwork and collaboration is effective when built upon these 4 rules.

4 rules for successful teamwork

  1. Respectfulness

  2. Direct, specific and applicable feedback

  3. Being curious

  4. Feelings are neither right nor wrong

Here's what it means and how it can be applied in practice.


This requires wearing the virtue of seeing intrinsic value and worth of others i.e. according dignity to myself and others I work with. This virtue creates space to allow errors, mistakes and differences to exist without leading to disproportionate conflict or contempt.

This is where an awareness of ego states (in transactional analysis theory and therapy) is important to cultivate.

There are 3 ego states - the Parent, Child and Adult ego state. The ideal engagement in teams or between client and coach would be from adult to adult. When we operate from an archetype of being a parent or a child, treating another as other than an adult leads to uncomfortable emotions of contempt, shame and resentment, fertile ground for conflicts.

More information on ego states can be found here.

Feedback should be direct, specific and applicable

Practiced in Pixar and other organisations, this feedback model was published in the Harvard Business Review and is widely practiced in organisations. The same is applicable in any relationship.

It is also beneficial to keep in mind 5 ingredients to make direct, specific and applicable feedback possible. These are:

  1. Aversion (to feedback) is common and should therefore be included in ground rules setting.

  2. Feedback is both positive and negative and negative feedback can be positive!

  3. The counterparty must be prepared to receive feedback, hence ask for permission to give feedback and always inform the purpose of providing feedback and there is room for push-back from your counterpart.

  4. Include suggestion(s) and be purposeful about it (being clear the purpose is to work better as a team or to have better results).

  5. Be open and accepting of push-back.

Being curious (as opposed to blame or contempt)

An attitude of curiousity bridges different view points and reduces situations where blame or contempt may occur.

Hence the virtues below are important to practice in a team setting:

  1. Open-mindedness

  2. Patience

  3. Respectfulness

  4. Purposefulness

Feelings are neither right not wrong

Uncomfortable feelings may lead to conflict if we react or act through our ego states. Feelings though are neither good nor bad, right not wrong. As in My Guest House, I write that they serve a purpose and usually uncovers an important desire or need which is unmet.

Being purposeful is applicable in such situations. Bearing in mind the purpose is to uncover the unmet need, the governing belief and ultimately seeking alignment through communication at the Adult Ego State.

Applying these ground rules in relationships

I find it helpful to cater to visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners in my coaching sessions through writing down the ground rules (in a succinct manner) on a card so that it can be passed around, looked at, touched (and felt) while I explain and give examples of such ground rules.

Here's a sample:

I typically spend 10 minutes at the start of coaching to include these ground rules and to get a sense of acceptance about these rules, I'd ask for questions through this feedback approach.

Sometimes, I find it useful to then lay out Emoli emotional literacy cards from the School of Emotions, after ground rules are laid to have a sense of where the team or individual client is in terms of their emotional state(s).

If you reside in Asia, I have Emoli cards for sale as well. Email me at

Executive Coaching For Teams and Individuals

I run executive team coaching for organisations on strategic planning, ideation and implementation and am a partner in Singapore's largest network of organisations focused on Well-Being - the Well-Being Champions Network.

Contact me for coaching enquiries at

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