The Power of Team Working Agreements

By Paul Spencer

Team working agreements can help your teams reach levels of performance that might previously have seemed out of reach.

One of the toughest challenges that leaders face is curating a harmonious, creative, and productive workplace culture. It’s not unusual to hear stories about missed deadlines, under-performance, and unmet targets, but there is a simple remedy to these problems – team working agreements.

Team working agreements can help your teams reach levels of performance that might otherwise seem out of reach. It’s a social contract between colleagues that outlines how they want to work together, what they expect from each other, and what they expect from the working environment.

This simple practice cultivates an open, safe, and productive workspace. It inspires discipline and accountability, wins investment from your team, and encourages a positive dynamic. It can quell conflict and limit disruption while everybody works towards the same goal in a structured, but autonomous, manner.

Your teams, not you, create the working agreement

Teams must design their own working agreement to achieve the desired outcomes. You cannot mandate the working agreement and then expect your employees to invest and commit in the same way. When somebody else creates and imposes the principles, it leaves room for interpretation, assumption, and lack of understanding, possibly leading to and fostering resentment against the unwelcome processes. None of those are desired outcomes, rendering the exercise useless.

When each member contributes and shares in creating the team agreement, you infuse accountability into the agreement . Success depends on all team members having a voice, working together and coming to a consensus. Afterwards, if a team member isn’t pulling their weight, or breaks the agreement, the team can govern themselves through the agreement and resolve the problem without conflict. Everyone understands their commitment to the team and the desired outcomes.

To create a team working agreement, gather your team together for a brainstorming session to collaboratively create and define boundaries and expectations. Then, ask them to create their own working agreement. Give members the responsibility of choosing their way of working. Let them decide the elements that fall within their expertise and remit those that belong to another team.

We’ll jump into the broader benefits of team working agreements, but first, let’s look at some crucial points you must consider once the ink has dried on the contract.

Agreements must be accessible

Your teams need free access to the agreement. It doesn’t matter how to you choose to do this. Everybody has their own style. Some teams print and display the document in a visible position where nobody can miss it, while others digitize and keep the record inside their storage system. Wherever you decide to keep the agreement, make sure it’s available for your team to address whenever needed.

Stay Fresh

These agreements are free-flowing, living documents that change over time. Members can suggest changes to the contract based on real world events. You can create a process where people can have these conversations and make team-based decisions. Plan periodic reviews throughout the year and revisit the guidelines when new members join, somebody leaves, or when any particular agreement is continuously out of alignment and demands reform.

Don’t let members forget about it

Businesses often embark on productive pursuits like this, then shove the half-baked results into a drawer and forget about it. You don’t want this to become an exercise in futility since the results from implementing this tactic can elevate performance, results, and workplace satisfaction to unprecedented heights.

Benefits of Team Working Agreements

Team working agreements bring a stream of tangible and intangible benefits that lay the foundation for trust-building, open communication, and accountability across your entire business. Let’s look closer at some of the positive outcomes you can expect.

Encourage creativity

It seems counter-intuitive but setting rules, especially when your employees design them, provides everybody with the freedom to be creative and thrive in their role. Boundaries remove some of the available options and the resulting choice paralysis. Constraints break people out of the box and wrap shackles around their feet, forcing them to think differently and more efficiently.

Get the right people doing the right job

Sometimes employees feel obliged to take on work that sits firmly outside their remit. This behavior is rarely attributable to unscrupulous purposes, but the outcome can still be detrimental. Your agreement defines who performs specific tasks while labeling responsibilities that fall wide of that team’s obligations. You want the best person for the job to achieve the best results.

Facilitate expected conversations

Some employees find it difficult to reach out to colleagues and delegate tasks, or ask for help, even when it’s the right thing to do. Because boundaries are written into the agreement, everyone understands what is acceptable and even expected as a team member, so an individual can hand over an assignment without worry of repercussions. Their colleagues will encourage and readily accept this conversation thanks to the mutual commitment signified in the contract.

Alleviate anxiety over confrontation and conflict

Most people despise conflict and do everything possible to avoid confrontation, which can curtail productivity, breed contempt, and harm your business. Your agreement minimizes friction by providing a template for resolution before problems arise. Even the most contentious of teams, made up of clashing personalities, can produce great results.

Boost collaboration

Creating these agreements demands open conversation about how individuals want to work together. Members share perspectives on good behaviors that should be encouraged, behaviors that people dislike, and personal preferences that ensure everybody understands the best way to collaborate. These conversations erase assumptions that could lead to future miscommunication and friction.

It works as an on-boarding document

Working agreements double up as an on-boarding document that eases fresh members into your teams. Your new team member will get an immediate sense of the team’s dynamic, discipline, and working style. Instead of flustering and feeling anxious about their role or who to consult in certain situations, they can look to the guidelines laid out in the agreement.

Transform the leadership role

Self-organized teams represent the holy grail for many businesses. Team working agreements provide the stepping stones to achieve this goal, but leaders must step back to let the magic flow. Team discipline comes from the willingness to work together as a group and hold each other accountable.

Instead of micro-managing and creating confusion, leaders are charged with facilitating the working agreement while team members go about their business. The entire team discussed and agreed to their own team practices, boundaries, and expectations, placing responsibility squarely into every team member’s hands.

Empower your employees to succeed

Team agreements aren’t designed to mandate how your employees get their work done. You implement them to provide teams with self-imposed guidelines that nurture accountability, productivity, and positive relationships. Team agreements empower members to drive towards success in a way that works best for them. Employees thrive in this work environment. They find joy in seeing the fruits of their discipline ripen before their eyes.

Creating a team agreement takes a bit of time but, when done correctly and effectively, it delivers significant results. There is no reason to put it off. Build a workplace culture that people want to be a part of and observe your employees’ happiness, performance, and results improve.


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