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Working agreements are a powerful teamwork tool. Here’s why

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 11, 2022

When it comes to teamwork, clarity is the not-so-secret spice that makes things pop. With clarity, you can avoid misunderstandings, strengthen team rapport, and generally achieve everything you want and more. So, when it comes to equipping yourself with tools and techniques that help you do this, it’s a no-brainer. Working agreements (also known as team charters or ground rules) are one such resource, and they’re well worth your time.

Best of all? Working agreements are quick(ish) and easy to create but pack a real punch. Want to learn more? Read on!

What is a working agreement?

A working agreement is a group proposal outlining the expectations and responsibilities of everyone on a team. You can use it to clarify team dynamics, such as how decisions are made, who is responsible for certain tasks, and how communication should take place. Working agreements help teams stay aligned and focused, which leads to better results. Since it creates consistency and accountability, a working agreement can also help mitigate conflicts and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Why working agreements matter

  • For a team to be productive, everyone needs to work as one. This means understanding the team’s goals, expectations, and working style. Working agreements can clarify these things.
  • Additionally, a working agreement can help to prevent conflict. While team members may not agree on every single point, everyone contributes to the proposal and accepts the compromises. By having a set of agreed-upon rules, everyone knows what is expected of them.

How do you create a working agreement?

Creating a working agreement is easy, and you can do it in a lot of ways. The workshop format is the most popular (and simplest to do) — so that’s what we’ll talk about today.

The workshop format involves the following steps:

  • Prep
  • Brainstorm
  • Vote
  • Finalize
  • Follow-up

1. Prep

Before you begin, set the space. For remote teams, you’ll want software like Zoom or Google Hangouts, as well as a virtual whiteboard for brainstorming ideas. For in-person teams, find a large enough space to fit everyone around a table. Plus, you’ll need sticky notes and snacks.

Then, once you have your space, send out the agenda and any materials participants need to read in advance. Giving everyone a heads-up will help ensure that the meeting is productive.

2. Brainstorm

Before you start brainstorming, reiterate your goals and the rules:

  1. Define the goal of the working agreement. What do you want it to achieve?
  2. Be clear about expectations. What is expected of team members?
  3. Establish rules of behavior. How should people behave and share ideas?

Once that’s done, it’s time to start generating ideas. The brainstorming phase is where the magic happens. You can use a flipchart or whiteboard to record the ideas as they come up.

Here are some starter questions to get the team thinking:

  • What are some things we should always do?
  • What are some things we should never do?
  • When do we need to agree on something as a group?
  • What are the ground rules for speaking?
  • How can we work together to productively achieve our goals?
  • What are our preferred channels for communicating with each other?
  • What team behaviors do we want to encourage and discourage?
  • How can we make this the best team you’ve ever worked on?

Encourage everyone to speak up — there’s no such thing as a bad idea! It’s best to generate as many ideas as possible and narrow them down later.

Once you’ve collected all the ideas, start sorting and grouping them. Try to find themes and commonalities; this will help you come up with a final working agreement that everyone can support.

3. Vote

Once you decide on the top items, let the negotiating begin! Now is the time for team members to discuss the details of each item and come to an agreement about how to implement them. Encourage openness and fair compromise at this stage, but avoid pressuring people to agree. The goal is to ensure that everyone is happy with the final product.

Once you’ve narrowed your list down, everyone on the team votes on which items they think are most important. This helps to prioritize the items and determine which ones will make it into the final agreement.

4. Finalize

Once the discussion is complete, you can finalize the working agreement. Put all the agreed-upon items into a formal document, and keep it up to date. If you store it on the cloud, you can make sure everyone always has access to the most recent version.

When creating a working agreement, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • The agreement should be tailored to the specific project and team.
  • Everyone involved should contribute to the creation of the agreement.
  • The agreement should be reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Disputes should be addressed quickly and fairly.

5. Follow-up

Think of working agreements as social contracts for professional teams. As you move forward, periodically review these guidelines to confirm that they still represent your team well. Here are three rules to follow:

  • A working agreement is not static. It’s a living document your team can amend and update as needed. Keep the lines of communication open and be prepared to revisit the agreement if necessary.
  • Once the working agreement is in place, it’s essential to follow up and ensure everyone is sticking to it. Establish regular check-ins to make sure no new issues have arisen.
  • If there are any problems or disagreements, aim to address them as quickly as possible so that they don’t snowball.

Final thoughts

Making a working agreement can be a daunting task, but it’s well worth the effort. By taking the time to create a document that reflects everyone’s needs, you can foster a productive and positive environment that’ll help you lay solid foundations for the work ahead.

To get the most out of the exercise, we recommend using project management software. It can help you stay organized and on track while ensuring that everyone involved is kept in the loop. Plus, with real-time notifications, version control, and handy scheduling charts, project planning, and team collaboration have never been easier.



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