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Every team needs a Working Agreement

Do you have a working agreement in your team?

Unless your team is highly skilled in mindreading and doesn’t ever make any assumptions, you may want to consider creating one!

Working agreements (aka Team Norms, Simple Rules ) – is a short list of behaviours or actions that a team agrees to engage in (and hold themselves accountable to) on a regular basis. One of the really cool things about Working Agreements – they are created by the team! And they get created in the language and the choice of word of the team.

One of my favourite working agreements story is from a team of interns I worked with over the summer. Their Team Norms included a statement like

“One diva, one mic”.

This was their unique and beautiful way to express the need to take turns, when speaking as well as expect each one on the team to be respectful, listen without interruption.

As a Scrum Master you can certainly help to facilitate the process, offer techniques to engage everyone’s voice, but you can’t create their Working Agreements on behalf of your team! It is for them to bring out what’s the most important.

Why does a team need working agreements?

  1. To clarify assumptions about what’s acceptable in this team.

  2. To acknowledge and embrace the differences. (Hey, not everyone is a morning person!)

  3. To help them stay as a team when things “go south”.

How do you create working agreements?

There are many ways to do it.

It could be as simple as starting with a silent brainstorming, followed by affinity mapping and dot-voting to help select the top 5 – 7 ideas.

I like to add a bit more fun and a personal touch to this by asking team members to pair up and interview each other, using modified personal maps.

For the personal map questions, I mix in a few about family, hobbies, favourite vacation spots with the ones that lead to the working agreements conversation:

Modified Personal Map with Working Agreement leading questions

  • I work the best when…

  • With this team I want to learn…

  • Something that can really trigger me is…

  • Top 3 things you can expect from me are…

I also ask each pair to come up with one answer that is an “exaggerated truth”. After about 6 minutes, team members take turns and introduce their pair to the rest of the team (using the personal maps they created in their interviews).

This is when the team gets to learn about everyone, laugh, while trying to guess the exaggerated answer…

And this is when a facilitator gets to capture highlights of these introductions in a “Same/Different” poster. These highlights become the basis for narrowing down on the Working Agreements choices for this team. (and some team members get to find their new skiing buddies too!)

Are Working Agreements carved in stone?

Of course not!

You can help the team and keep them alive by reviewing them in your retrospectives.

Working Agreements check-in at a retrospective

Why not facilitate a self-assessment on Working agreements? Ask your team next time:

“How are we holding ourselves to our team norms? On a scale from 0 to 5, how would we rate ourselves? Is everything still relevant?”

Another opportunity to bring them up, when you have a team composition change: a new team member joining or someone leaving the team.

Last but definitely not least, team working agreements will help your team to stay civil during a conflict. Refer to them when things get heated. Then discuss with the team what needs to be added to the Working Agreements to navigate conflict more effectively next time.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead, give it a try. Experiment with Working Agreements in your team and have fun doing it!

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