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Agile Development

Working Agreements for Team Cohesion

This is the second post in my series focused on individuals and teams. In this blog I will share how working agreements help a group of disparate individuals become a team.

A team is a group of individuals who come together to work towards a common goal.  But a group of individuals doesn’t become a high-performing team overnight.

There are many activities we can do that help us build relationships with our teams but working agreements have a different focus.  Working agreements help individuals decide how they want to work together as a team.

What is a working agreement?

A working agreement is a set of guidelines, created by the team, that describe how the team would like to work together.  These guidelines should be aligned with their desired state of collaboration – if they were the best team they could be, what would they be doing?

Why do we need working agreements?

Working agreements are great for building alignment within teams.  The act of developing a working agreement is a great step towards promoting open communication, collaboration, and transparency.  Teams are able to decide how they want to work together and gives them a simple means to hold each other accountable.

What makes a good working agreement?

A good working agreement will be future-focused.  It’s not what we’re currently doing, it’s what we should do in order to be the best team we can be.  It should be built around the team’s values and what they will do to support those values.  It focuses on the team’s processes, not the product they are developing.

An example might be:

  • We value collaboration, open communication and learning.
  • We agree to speak up when we disagree or have a question.  We will address conflict head-on by acknowledging it, having a cooling-off period, and collaborating towards a solution.
  • We dedicate time to improving each and every sprint.  We share knowledge to improve everyone’s skills.
  • We listen to everyone’s ideas before making a decision.  Majority vote wins.
  • We put away distractions during meetings and focus on the topic at hand.  We prepare for meetings and help each other staying on track during meetings.

How do we create a working agreement?

Creation of a working agreement is often facilitated by a ScrumMaster, project manager, or other project leader.  There are many ways to facilitate this workshop, but here is an approach I’ve used successfully in the past.

  1. Start with an introduction.  Explain the idea of a working agreement and how it could benefit the team, then explain the process for creating it.
  2. Identify the team’s values.
  3. Brainstorm and share ideas of what to include in the working agreement that would support the team’s values.  Narrow down the list to the team’s top 5-7 ideas.
  4. Refine the agreement to ensure that each statement is helpful and represents how they want to be as a team in the future.  Make sure statements are positive and action-oriented.
  5. Finalize and ask each team member to “sign” it, either physically or virtually to confirm that they are willing to adhere to it.
  6. Publish the working agreement in a location that will make it easily visible to the team.

When do we create a working agreement?

You should create a working agreement whenever a new team is formed, as part of other team building activities.  The team should periodically review and update the working agreement to reflect the team’s desired state of being.  It should also be revised when the team composition changes significantly, to ensure that it accurate represents the values of the current team.

How have working agreements benefited your teams?

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Jennifer Rostal

Jennifer is a senior project manager at Perficient. She is a Certified Team Coach and Scrum Foundations Educator with the Scrum Alliance and the Perficient Agile Community founder. Her passion is helping customers, colleagues, and teams build their agile mindsets, relationships, and skills through coaching, training, and mentoring.

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