Unlocking better collaboration is the key to building outstanding teams. But how can you be intentional about creating a team environment that fosters empathy, builds trust and psychological safety, and unit cohesion? An important first step is coming together to craft a team working agreement.
In this post, we’ll cover what is meant by a team agreement, give some examples of what team agreements look like, go over the steps to building your own, and provide some (free) templates built by collaboration experts.
What is a team agreement?
A team agreement is a formal document that outlines the expectations, roles, and responsibilities of a team. It is usually created collaboratively and agreed upon by all team members. The agreement should be clear and concise, and it should cover all aspects of the team's work.
The agreement should specify the team's goals, how team members will communicate with each other, what happens if someone violates the agreement, and so on.
By setting out these expectations in a team agreement, management can help to ensure that the team functions smoothly and efficiently.
What are the expected outcomes of a team agreement?
By creating a team agreement, team members can align on expectations and agree to work together in a certain way. This can be helpful in preventing conflict and promoting collaboration.
Some things that might be covered in a team agreement include the following:
How will decisions be made?
What is the process for handling conflict?
What are the expectations for communication?
What are the metrics for success for each project?
Creating a team agreement can be helpful in ensuring that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them. This can save time and frustration down the road.
The goal of any team agreement should be to help create a more cohesive and successful team.
Examples of team agreements
Team agreements typically take the form of shared values or phrases that can be used to help navigate working relationships and workplace challenges. These form the central tenets that unify the team and its ways of working.
For example, one agreement might be something like, ‘better over faster.’ Here, the idea is to always keep in mind that quality matters more than quantity, and that anything your team members do should be filtered through that lens — having a mutual understanding of how everyone is approaching their work makes it easier to interpret and make sense of timing, deliverables, and results.
Another example might be a phrase like ‘data-oriented.’ In this case, it’s key that everything the team does has a quantitative component — whether it is testing new messaging for a marketing team, or gauging user satisfaction based on UI updates, decision making should be centered on data.
How to create a team agreement
To create a team agreement, follow these steps:
1. Surface team preferences
The goal here is to help everyone get to know one another’s working style and habits in order to prevent misunderstandings and promote unit cohesion. Include things like typical time needed to process information, whether people consider themselves to be introverts or extroverts, and the hours of the day when they are most productive.
2. Discuss team preferences
Once your team has had a chance to add notes on their preferences, it’s time to look for themes that can be useful in establishing work norms, and find ways to facilitate better collaboration. For example, if you have a team full of night owls, then 8am meetings may not be the best fit.
3. Surface team goals
Brainstorm with your team to come up with goals that you’d all like to work toward — one fun way to do this is to have everyone imagine a newspaper headline they’d like to see.
Here’s an example of what that might look like for a People Ops team:
What are some of the key takeaways from your meeting so far? How could they be summarized or collated into categories?
6. Propose agreements
Have your team create short, catchy phrases that help summarize your working agreement themes. This process helps make the takeaways memorable and makes it easier for the team to craft finalized versions of your agreements for display.
7. Discuss and build consensus
As you’re proposing phrases and themes, have your team discuss and save the ones that resonate the most with everyone. This sets the stage for the eighth step in the process…
8. Display your agreements
Much like company values, finding a prominent way to display your team agreements helps solidify your approach and serves as a useful reference for how to handle difficult situations, new challenges, or unexpected changes.
Team Agreement templates
One of the best ways to make sure your team agreement is comprehensive is to use a template that walks you through each step. The MURAL Team Agreement template, built by the experts at IDEO, offers a visually engaging and complete guide to the process of creating your team agreement.
Another approach is to create a team charter, which outlines not only the core values and group norms for your team, but also covers the metrics for success and quality standards, painting a clear picture of how everyone can be successful, individually and collectively.
If you’re working within the Agile framework, you may want to consider a Scrum-specific team working agreement. This will outline the roles and responsibilities, metrics, and opportunities for growth, helping to ensure broad alignment and a shared vision of long-term success for the team.
Whatever approach you choose, make sure you work collaboratively with your team to customize your approach and finalize the central tenets of your working agreements so that you can be sure everyone is informed, aligned, and motivated.
5 tips for creating working agreements with your team
Creating effective working agreements with your team is crucial for establishing clear expectations, fostering collaboration, and building a strong team culture. If you want to take your efforts to the next level, try these five tips to help you get the most out of your team working agreement:
1. Have your team come prepared with ideas
When planning a session to create working agreements, encourage your team members to come prepared with their ideas. This approach not only helps your team prevent groupthink but also quickens the process of drafting the agreement. By having individual contributions, you ensure that everyone has something valuable to contribute, leading to a more comprehensive and inclusive agreement.
2. Make the team agreement easily accessible
Once you've finalized your team agreement, it's important to make it easily accessible to all team members. Consider adding it to your other team resources, such as your project management tool or team wiki. By making the agreement readily available, team members can easily reference it whenever needed, helping to make sure that everyone is on the same page and aligned with the agreed-upon norms.
Additionally, include the team agreement in your regular team updates. This will serve as a reminder of the agreed-upon guidelines and help reinforce their importance within the team.
3. Regularly update your team working agreement
Creating a working agreement isn't a one-time task. It's essential to regularly review and update the agreement to reflect the evolving needs and dynamics of your team. Conducting retrospectives at regular intervals can provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the agreement and identify areas for improvement.
As the composition of your team changes over time, it's important to update the working agreement accordingly. New team members should be onboarded with a clear understanding of the team's norms and expectations. Including the team agreement as part of the onboarding process provides that new teammates are aligned with the established working practices from the start.
4. Establish accountability mechanisms
Include accountability mechanisms in your team working agreement to make sure that everyone takes responsibility for their actions and commitments. Define roles and responsibilities, establish deadlines, and set up regular check-ins to track progress.
This accountability fosters a sense of ownership and provides that team members are actively contributing to the team's success.
5. Create working agreements for larger teams across the organization
Working agreements shouldn't be limited to small teams. They can (and should) be scaled and applied to larger teams across the organization to outline ways of working across teams, define what teams are responsible for, and document standard operating procedures. No matter the size of the team, working agreements help to foster collaboration and build a cohesive team culture.
When scaling working agreements, it's important to involve key stakeholders from different teams to bring a diverse perspective and alignment with the organization's values. This collaborative approach promotes consistency and coherence across teams, enabling smoother collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Benefits of team agreements
In sports, business, and in life, it pays to have a plan. The better we understand one another and know what to expect, the better we’re able to collaborate, adjust to shifting priorities or timelines, and produce our best work. Some of the benefits of team agreements include:
Empathy: By taking the time to better understand your teammates, you’ll be better equipped to work together and collaborate more effectively.
Trust: Without trust, there is no real collaboration. Building a working agreement document with your team at the outset of your time together forms the foundation of that trust, enabling strong working relationships — and ultimately better outcomes.
Clarity of purpose: One of the key contributors to the success or failure of any team is a strong sense of purpose. What is your team trying to achieve? What concrete steps are there along the way to achieving success? The better outlined these steps are, the more engaged and motivated your team will be.
Conflict resolution: When you have an established approach to resolving issues within your team, you avoid wasting time and energy, and are better positioned to accomplish collective goals. Having a team agreement gives everyone a central, shared point of reference that can be used to help resolve issues as they arise.
Common goals: By establishing metrics for success, you create opportunities for celebrating milestones along the way, fostering an environment of strong collaboration and sense of collective accomplishment.
Team agreements: the key to happy, productive, and collaborative teams
The best work is the product of the best teams. The difference between a good team and a great team is better collaboration. How you achieve more effective collaboration is through an intentional approach that doesn’t neglect process — by giving everyone a clear picture of team preferences, workplace norms, and metrics for success, you help ensure that everyone shares a common vision and a common goal.