How to Make the Best Team Agreement

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Team agreements:

  • Have you ever felt that some decisions never seem to be made in your team?
  • Have you ever felt that you keep having the same conversation over and over again?
  • Are you tired of needing to explain the rules to your team members repeatedly?

If you have worked in a team, chances are you have experienced some of the above situations. You might even have found a few articles on how to resolve these challenges. Creating a team agreement is a great first step towards addressing these challenges. 

Team agreements are sometimes referred to as social contracts. Research indicates that social contracts, if implemented correctly, have many positive benefits, such as giving employees a feeling of control and security in their relationships with their leader and teammates. These contracts also instill a sense of responsibility, accountability, and trust among team members. For the leader, these contracts help motivate desirable workplace behaviors and can discourage dysfunctional behaviors without heavy-handed surveillance. Using the Tuckman’s team development model, team agreements can help teams peacefully and effectively move from the Norming stage to the Performing stage. They also allow the team members to keep a sustainable culture of collaboration in the team. 

In short, Team agreements help team members have clarity about expectations with regards to the work and culture of the team and allow individuals to hold each other accountable.

What is a social contract?

A team agreement is a set of values, principles or behaviors that a team uses to improve their communication and keep each other accountable. This contract can cover territory such as how members will work together, make decisions, communicate, share information, and support each other. Social contracts clearly outline norms for how members will and should interact with one another.

How to create good team agreements:

Create social contracts that are inline with your team values.

First of all your team rules must be in line with your team values and the principles you follow in your collaboration. For example, if you are a fully remote team, working at any place and at any time you feel more productive can be a principle you all follow which can be stemmed from the value of flexible work hours. Whereas if you all work from the same office, being present at the office between 11am and 3pm might be your principle while you too operate from the value of flexible hours.

It is also important to outline the behaviors that team members need to adopt in order to keep each other accountable to the team agreements. And the most important of all is that team values and team agreements cannot be dictated by a manager to the team. Only your team truly knows what it needs, so outside influence should be kept to a minimum.

Team agreements are created by the team for the team.

There are two general approaches to creating team agreements. 

1- Identifying values: Here is a step by step guide that can help you identify the values and principles of your team. Although the values alone can be considered a starting point for a social contract, in this post I would like to focus on the more practical and the behavioural aspect of team agreements.

2- Defining accepted behaviors: In this post, we are focusing on this approach: defining accepted behaviors.

It’s absolutely fine to create both types of agreements in your team. 


How to create a team agreement for accepted behavior:

Step 1: Individual accountability
Each participant writes a few sentences starting with the sentence “You can count on me to _____” which should be completed with a behavior/standard that they feel should be a team agreement. Keep each sentence on a separate card (post-it) so that you can organize them more easily going forward.

The final notes from this step can be used as a reference to each team member’s domain of accountability. This reference is a great way for a new team member to be introduced to each team member and can also be completed by the new member. 

Step 2: Discover team accountability 
All participants take some time to read what everyone has written and ask clarifying questions from the author of each card until every team member has understood what they can count on from others. Once clarity is reached, each person votes for the cards that they think should become a team responsibility. For example if a team member has written “You can count on me to never push my code to production on a friday” and you believe that should be how all team members behave, then vote for that card. 

Step 3: Create your team agreements
Once you have all the votes, look for cards with the most votes. Those that have won everyone’s vote are definitely part of the team agreements. For those that do not have consensus (all votes), ask the team members who have not voted for them whether they can support and live by them anyway in a democratic way. And for those that have few votes, prioritize and have a conversation. Most times these items are either included in something else that has already made it to the team agreements or they will be modified and then amended to the final document. At the end, every participant signs the document as a symbol of respecting the social contract of the team.


A few tips to keep the team agreement simple yet comprehensive

1. Update the team agreement frequently
Once a team reaches high performance, they frequently update their team agreements to improve effectiveness. The process of updating the contract helps reinforce the feeling of camaraderie and collaboration. Once you have created your first agreement, together with your team, decide on a schedule to revisit and update it.

2. Cover personal and technical behavior
Some team agreements are more concerned with technical practices (such as the “Do not push any code to production on Fridays” that was mentioned before) while others focus on principles the team will hold true, for example: “give performance feedback to the person before speaking about their performance to someone else”.

3. Themed agreements for different aspects of collaboration
You can focus the conversations on various themes to make the agreements more precise. For example you can create different sets of agreements for

  • Information: What kind of information do you need for the projects you work on?
  • Communication: What kinds of communication do you use to get your work done?
  • Collaboration: How do you know what everyone is doing?

4. Keep it simple
Every team has things they do well and things they do not-so-well. Start with what is most important for your team to keep top of mind. If something requires a lengthy discussion, discuss it in a retrospective meeting and add a new item to your team agreement once a decision is reached. Typically, A team agreement will include ten to thirty items. The document can start, “We agree…” followed by the list of agreed upon items.

5. Lead by example
The leader should model the behavior desired in the social contract. If you expect to see a certain behavior in the team, make sure you adhere to that first. And if you see someone stray away from the agreements, gently remind them of the agreement rather than blaming or shaming them.

6. Sign the team agreement
At the bottom of the document should be a space for each team member’s signature. Use poster board or flipchart paper so the whole document can be on one sheet. There is a lot of power to signing one’s name to a document. This can even become a ceremony of sorts where team members are acknowledged and thanked for their contributions.

Hang it on the wall in a prominent place (or on the main digital space of your remote team’s workspace) to remind everyone of what they stand for.

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