All organisations are in constant flux. They’re a constant stream of new initiatives, changing goals, evolving roles, new hires and priority projects, whilst trying to navigate the impact of hybrid and remote work. The challenge is to ensure that employees and teams stay aligned and consistent in the way they work regardless of department, location, time zone or initiative.
So how does an organisation or a leader encourage their people to maintain a standard way of working, where expectations of each other are clear, where there is an agreed way to approach to tasks and projects, and people all use the same technology and apps?
A powerful way of achieving this is through a team agreement. A team agreement is a social contract developed through an interactive and inclusive process, which all of your team members help design. The team agrees how they will work together, how they will make decisions, how they will hold each other accountable, and identifies key processes they should follow in order to stay aligned no matter how busy they are.
In this article, we’re going to explore what is a team agreement, why they are a critical tool for modern teams and how you can design one for your team.
What is a Team Agreement?
A team agreement is a powerful way of operationalising your values, mission and strategy. Many organisations struggle to truly live their organisation values or align all their actions with the mission and the strategy. Values are often statements or words that are very aspirational. They can feel quite abstract and removed from reality. When a team member is making an important decision or deciding whether or not to share an important piece of information, they will very rarely use the strategy or values statements to guide them. This is often why strategies often stay untouched in drawers and values are just statements on the wall.
The Team Agreement is a concrete and actionable way of guiding employee behaviour on the most critical areas. It enables your organisation to achieve its strategy while living its values. It includes a combination of behaviours, practices, and agreements between team members. The “team” can be anything from a sub-team, to a department to the whole organisation – you decide. There is a “no one size fits all” approach. Every team agreement is as different and unique as any organisation and its people.
The Team Agreement needs to be written down. It should be a living document, that is constantly referred to and reviewed to ensure it stays relevant and keeps pace with the changing context.
It shouldn’t be an exhaustive list that tries to guide how everyone should behave in every situation. It should capture only the practices and behaviours that are essential to the effective performance of the team. It should be relevant to everyone and to the work they’re performing.
How do you develop a Team Agreement?
We’re going to share with you the 4 steps we take when designing a Team Agreements for our clients.
Step One: Set out the agenda
We start our Team Agreement development sessions by describing in detail what a team agreement is (and isn’t), and how it works
- We lay out the process for how we will work together to design it
- We agree the process for how we will decide on the final content. It’s important to have informed consent from all the team members upfront
Step Two: Assess to what extent you’re currently living your organisation values
Your values should provide the cornerstone for your team agreement. They should influence many of the behaviours and approaches that make the final cut. In practice if you ask a group of employees “What are the organisation’s values?”, you’ll often be met with a blank response. If you go further and ask them for specific behaviours related to them, then you often get even more empty expressions. There is no point encouraging your team to live the values through their work if they have no idea how they’re currently doing.
So, at this stage in the Team Agreement development process, we invite people to self-assess against the values so they can see where they are in their personal journey. We then invite them to assess the team against the values. We ask them to score themselves and their team on a score out of 10. A score of 1 means “we don’t live this value at all” and a score of 10 means ”we live this value every day and hold ourselves and others accountable for this”.
Next, we start to get specific in terms of the behaviours underpinning each value. The aim is for the team to be able to identify the behaviours they want to encourage and prevent in the Team Agreement. So in relation to each value, we ask the team to discuss and capture what are they doing well, what could they do more of, and what could they do less of. This orients the team towards the values and primes them for discussions about developing the Team Agreement. We get the team to share perspectives and this creates a rich discussion.
As a follow-up to this activity and to drive progress, we invite everyone to develop an individual and team action plan to live the values more effectively.
Step Three: Developing the Agreement
Now that people understand the concept of Team Agreement, are refreshed on the values, and know their strengths and areas for development, we move on to the work of developing the agreement itself.
We recommend to clients that they should have clarity on 4 key areas:
- How we coordinate
- How we support each other
- How we make decisions
- How we hold ourselves and each other accountable
Depending on how effective you are in those areas, you could also focus your Team Agreement on these other areas:
- How we give feedback
- How we do meetings
- What technology and apps we use
We invite the senior leaders, in a world café format, to ‘host’ a table on each of the 4 areas outlined above. Their role is to facilitate a sequence of discussions with small groups. The aim of the entire activity is to identify 4-6 essential practices or behaviours the team needs to sign up to in order to be successful. Each small group shares their ideas for each area. As the groups go round, they review and build upon the input of the previous group. By the end of the session every member of the team will have spent time discussing each of the areas of the Team Agreement. The leader’s role is primarily to keep the team on track, create an inclusive space where people feel able to share their perspectives and summarise the findings.
To help keep the discussions flowing we give the leaders prompts for each area that encourage a deeper conversation.
Once all the groups have been to each of the tables, we bring everyone back together. The leaders summarise their findings from each table and then invite reflections from the wider group.
Step 4: Finalising the Team Agreement
The end goal is to have reduced the lists generated down to just 3-4 items for each area of the Team Agreement. So, the next stage is choosing the final essential practices or behaviours. If we are working with a large group we ask for a small representative group of about 6 people to take the ideas generated and to narrow them down to a final list. The representative group is chosen by the whole team. It works best when it is a cross selection of experience, specialism, tenure, and job grade.
The final Team Agreement is created and the ideas that don’t make the final cut are given a rationale for them not being selected. This list is then published in draft for people to review one final time. The whole team then has one final opportunity to add, subtract or amend. We encourage teams to print it out and ask members to physically sign the paper, to symbolize their commitment.
A date is set when the team will sit down and review that the agreement is still relevant. Changes can be made at this stage. You should have reviews at regular intervals to make sure the agreement is reflective of the current situation.
Once it’s in place, the team agreement encourages collaboration and members to contribute to an environment where teams can juggle multiple projects together, make progress quickly, and move with agility. It will ultimately allow you to navigate any inevitable tensions that will arise.