… and why should we set them up?
Agile approaches often talk about “working agreements” for teams especially, but for any group of folks getting together. In case you think this type of discussion sounds a bit “touchy / feely” there are a number of benefits to doing this early in the team’s life:
Our aim is to create a high-performance team. The purpose of the agreements is to create a positive productive process and help establish a “one team” mindset.
What does the science say we should focus on? From 5 Dysfunctions of a Team we learn that we want a team where team members:
Building trust is the hard part. To create an environment where trust is possible you need to have transparency between team members and have the team members make and meet commitments to each other. A step in the right direction is to establish some working agreements.
What kind of things should be covered in your working agreements? Basically you are answering the “who”, “what” and “why” question as it relates to the team:
The best time to start the discussion of working agreements is early in a team's life. This is not to say it cannot be done at any time, but if you get into the habit early adjustments can be more easily done as you learn how to become more effective. For Scrum teams, an obvious place to inspect and update is during a retrospective but the reality is that any time it makes sense to discuss this, that is the right time.
Deb Korbe sent me an (excellent) template she has used in the past to help teams come up with the working arrangement. This is really just to give you a flavor of some of the things you might want to talk about. You’ll notice there are placeholders for some items, and items are greyed out. There is nothing in this template that is fixed – its just there to help guide the discussion. In addition to the agreements about time / place etc. a good starting point for discussion is to have the team brainstorm (by themselves) things:
Sometimes the mere act of talking about a potential agreement is enough, and no documentation or enforcement is required. One team I work with had a problem early in their life in that team members would often feel they had the right to interrupt other team members any time they had an issue. This meant that team members that were “deep in thought” were disrupted and had a problem restarting again. The discussion came up at the retrospective and it was agreed that a flag system would be put in place to signal whether the person was open for discussion (green - no problem, yellow - if important, red - don't). Flags were bought and placed in work areas. And then they were never used. Reality was that because the discussion was had, people were aware of the issue and were much more careful about observing whether a person was open for interruption.
This idea leads to another concept - working agreements can be “deleted” if you are documenting them. If everyone knows the behavior and it just happens (in other words, its become part of the team culture and is a habit) then there is no need to keep that agreement around. Perhaps a new agreement should be put in place to help the team become more effective. Or perhaps not.
One thing that many ask is “who is responsible for making sure agreements are met.” The answer is “the people that made the agreement.” On a team it is up to the individual team members to hold each other accountable for behaviors the team has agreed to. So while agreements can be a tool to allow a Scrum Master, for example, resolve issues, but main idea is that team uses it to hold each other accountable for behavior.
The idea of working agreements can be applied to any meeting, any group of people, with the aim of improving the effectiveness of the group. As said before, you will have agreements whether you are explicit about them or not, so you might as well leverage the idea to become more effective.
And finally from What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team we learn that we want to encourage a couple of team behaviors to have a good team:
By understanding these characteristics, perhaps you (the team) can mould the working agreements to increase the chance of these behaviors.
Many people think that “We don't need to do this. After all, aren't we all adults? Aren't we all professionals?” Reality is that in the normal course of events these things will seem self evident and so of course we adult and professional. But this is not about the normal course of events. Working agreements are a tool for the team to work issues when people are not working well with others, for whatever reason. They are particularly useful when there is a lot of emotion around an issue and when working an issue starts to degenerate into a discussion about the people involved and their motivations, rather than the issue itself. Working agreement are an acknowledgement that we are all human and so do not always respond in a rational, professional and adult way to situations.
A foundation piece to this is talk about our team purpose, our values (statements of what is important), and establish some working agreements and rules.
Some examples of values:
Some examples of working agreements are:
And additional information: