Team Working AgreementTeams

What is a team working agreement and how do we construct one?

Team working agreement

Most effective teams are social structures that rely heavily on inter personal dynamics. These team  interactions have expectations associated with them, which we align on in the team working agreement. By making implied expectations explicit, team members can focus on authentic, passionate interactions, express their creativity, and put social fears behind them. Thus, working agreements help teams to co-create their optimal, most productive team working climate.

Why team working agreements matter

Making social norms explicit may come with resistance at first, team mates may feel stupid writing down the obvious expected behaviors. Doing this, though, is crucial to not regard something as implied, but to have the conversation around it instead which clarifies mutual expectations. Not having the conversations around expectations results in friction and disappointment later on. A team’s threshold for dealing with disappointments diminishes with every encounter with disappointment. This leads to the team’s inability to leverage the collective mind of the team, where the next frontier of thinking, ideas and innovations are obtained. Instead, the team members become stronger golf players (individualized goal sport)as opposed to a stronger soccer team (cohesive unit performing as one). Worst case scenario is that the team social structure crumbles.

The team working agreement provide a practical solution to this conundrum: Being clear about expectations ensures that we can meet them. As such, they make explicit that which would normally be implied.

How do I run a team working agreement workshop?

Start by scheduling two hours for the workshop.

1.     Start the workshop with a check in question or activity

Checking in at the start of a team meeting/workshop/session is an essential part to get the atmosphere stimulated for the session at hand. It helps us tune into the current area of focus and build empathy for the individuals in the session. You have many avenues to approach this from, and as this is a team working agreement workshop, sticking with questions in the same domain topic will set the scene for the next two-hours together. Examples of such questions may include:

  • “Referring to a past team that you worked on, what did you enjoy most about working on a high performance team? Please elaborate.”
  • “What were some of the best learnings from past teams that you were part of?”
  • “What does team work mean to you?”

When starting sessions with a positive and true sentiment it stimulates our ability to solve problems in the session.

Give your peers 3 minutes to consider and respond to the question on a sticky note. Once everyone is done, encourage a one minute share about the note.

2.     After checking in, introduce the team working agreement model

Introduce the concept of working agreements to the team, the benefit is has on team performance and dynamics. Ensure that you point out some of the benefits of working agreements, as noted above. Ensure the participants understand that there is no right or wrong answer/ approach/ viewpoint, and the whole point of this is to find alignment.

3.     Start to craft the working agreement with the team

Here you want a powerful question to frame the departure point:

  • “How do we want to work together?”
  • “What, in your view, describes the best working climate to do our life’s best work here over the next 3 to 6 months?”

Ask each participant to write their wish down on a (virtual) sticky note within a 5-minute time-box. Play back the wishes (either by participants playing back their wishes, or using popcorn style). Alternatively, have the participants group together similar ideas. Look at the clustered sticky notes as a collective, and find agreement as a team (next).

4.     Come to agreement as a team

Ask the team what haven’t we covered yet, or, what needs to be changed based on the discussions. Ask the participants whether they all agree on the content of the working agreement. Use your preferred facilitation technique (e.g. dot voting) to get consensus on the question at hand “Are we aligned on the Team working agreement?” It’s crucial to have your entire team onboard prior to moving to the next step.

5.     Help enhance the working agreement

Here, assist the team to augment their team agreement by looking at items that might not have been thought of. Some questions that may assist here:

  • What are the core team hours where all team members need to be available/ online?
  • For high severity issues, do we need to consider and agree on service levels?
  • What is the preferred mechanism for communication in the team?
  • In times of conflict, how shall we resolve it?
  • When shall we have our Scrum ceremonies? Days and times should be agreed upon.
  • What length shall our iteration be (if you can decide)

6.     Get the team to commit to the jointly created team working agreement

Now that we’ve aligned on the content of the team working agreement it’s time to commit to it. Typically the team members would sign the working agreement, pledging to uphold it permanently.

7.     Closing the workshop

Clarify what the team needs from you the scrum master to create the environment described at the start. Agree with the team a cadence to refine the working agreement, and how we’ll hold each other accountable. The time for a check out question/activity has also arrived. Some examples of such questions include:

  • “Based on our discussions today, choose one word describing the future of our team”.
  • “How might we show up differently tomorrow, based on everything we’ve discussed here today.

It’s worth pointing out that the team working agreement is sometimes referred to as a team canvas or team charter.

What next?

  • To start the creative process, the folk at The Team Canvas provides two templates that can kick-start the process for you. They have one for beginner teams and one for more established ones.
  • Alternatively, join us in our SAFe for Teams course where we introduce the SAFe approach to team working agreements.