A working agreement or a social contract (team rules) is a team’s agreed way of working. A fundamental cornerstone for any high performing and high functioning teams in new ways of working.
It is an explicit way to call out how the team will interact with one another, enhancing the quality of the group’s processes, emphasising good team behaviors that will keep everyone more productive, positive, respectful and accountable. It is generally written down, documented and used to ground the team.
Some of the best teams I have been on don’t just agree on how they are going to work, but how they are going to do work. It removes the illusion of your own biases of how everyone else should be working with each other, the unclear expectations and the weird collision of personalities in the team and an implied working agreement.
Take tooling for example; how is the team is going to use collaboration and communication tools such as Slack, emails, Trello and Zoom?
What is an acceptable response time for getting back to a message? Where are going to store things? How will the team build a consensus and agree?
How the team will <insert words>?
I have noticed over time the core foundational which may seem basic is often overlooked.
- What tools are we going to use and when?
- Remote team working hours?
- When the team will meet?
- What roles do we play on the team?
- How is the team inbox email going to be answered?
- How is the team invoice going to be processed?
- When to not disturb me
So, what happens when an agreement is broken?
It is important to understand why it has happened? Does it mean it has not been documented well? Does it mean it is not well understood? Did it outlive the working agreement and is no longer needed? Is it an unreasonable expectation, or out of the team’s control?
The success of the team working agreement is based on the team’s commitment to them and it is essential that they are agreed upon by the whole team.
It should be a living document and shouldn’t be a set and forget, but constantly reviewed to see how well it is serving the team.