Can you remember that time when you were waiting for someone to get back to you urgently, and all you were getting was radio silence? This is very frustrating, right? But what if you knew that they had a baby and were busy dealing with regular child care and would get back to you in a couple of hours? Would you be less frustrated? Simple misunderstandings like this can cause a large amount of stress and frustration (for everyone).

A fundamental part of team collaboration is having a shared understanding. This means knowing things such as each other's strengths and weaknesses, preferred working hours, communication style, and more. Something that often goes unspoken or is overlooked.

It is not your job as a Manager to be the one who has all the answers, however, it is important to foster trust and openness within your team so they feel confident to ask each other directly and work together without being blocked/ waiting for you.

In this article, we will help you build a foundation of working agreements within your team to remove the friction and work towards becoming a high-performing, collaborative team.

How to create team working agreements

Prep time: 10 mins

Run time: 60 mins

Tip: For small teams (4 or less) you can double up on some questions or cut down the time required.

Step 1: Prep (5 min)

Whether you are remote or in-person, start by creating a collaboration document such as a Trello board, Google Doc, or use a whiteboard. You will need post-it notes and makers if you are in-person.

On the shared document, create three columns or spaces and label the first “Brainstorm,” the second “Working Agreements” and the third “Parking Lot”.

Step 2: Set the stage (5 min)

Open the meeting by explaining to the team that as a group you’re creating a set of behavioral agreements to guide how to work together. It is about working together as people, and not about technical processes. Request that they:

  1. Keep an open, curious mind
  2. Practice active listening and encourage everyone to contribute
  3. Avoid interrupting or dominating the conversation

Step 3: Reflect (5 min)

Ask all team members to take a moment by themselves and write down answers to a few questions. You can begin with these examples, however, we recommend you add your own tailored team questions as well.

  • What are your working hours and when are you not available?
  • What is your preferred communication channel/s?
  • How would you like to receive feedback (constructive/ praise)?
  • What behaviors are important to us as a team?
  • Think of teams that work together well. What do those teams do that we could adopt?
  • What can we do on this team to avoid past mistakes from other teams?

Step 4: Draft team agreements (10 min)

Next, ask attendees to come up with one (for smaller teams ask for 2 or 3) agreement that will lead to successfully working together as a team, using their reflections as a guide. Have everyone add their ideas to the shared document in the ‘Brainstorm’ section.

Eg: Respect each other's time and be punctual to meetings, ask for help sooner rather than later, fail fast, and learn from our mistakes.

Step 5: Combine ideas (10 min)

Go through the agreements together with the team and combine any that are similar.

It’s important to keep the agreements high level and focused on values, not specifics. For example: “Be at the 8 am meeting by 8 am,” can be turned into “Be on time to meetings.” Add suggestions that are too specific or unrelated to working agreements to the ‘Parking Lot’ space.

Step 6: Vote and commit (30 min)

Read each agreement out loud and then vote as a team to commit to the agreement. We recommend keeping the agreements to a minimum to make sure it is realistic to follow.

If you get any “no” votes, ask the team member what would turn their vote into a “yes.” Discuss what you can do together as a team and perhaps adjust the agreement.

The goal of the exercise is to get a thumbs up from all team members on all agreements.

Now that you have a shared working agreement this is a foundation for your team. Ensure that it is shared and visible for everyone to see it, live it, and keep each other accountable. Remember this is not a one time exercise, to truly feel the value this needs to be at the forefront of your daily team efforts. Continue to work hard as a leader to build these shared understandings and develop high-performing teams.

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