By Tyler Jefford • September 9th 2020 • 6 min read
If you have the luxury of starting a new team, or evolving a team overtime, you might want to try collaborating with the team on a working agreement. I call these Team Agreements, or Team Charters.
I've used these in many teams over the years and it can make a huge difference, especially when things get hard. I will outline some things I like to add and the guidelines I set up during the inception, but each team is going to be different and the more you learn about each other, the better the conversation is going to be. Not everything in this post will work for you. That's OK.
Set the tone
Sometimes teammates don't want to open up with each other about things that bother them. This is especially true if it’s a new team with a mix of new and old employees to the company.
Set the tone by explaining what the agreement is and what it is not. As a team, we want to work better without stepping on each other. We want to be productive and efficient and we want to give and receive feedback in a manner that doesn’t feel like a pile on.
This isn't meant to be a checklist, a document to consult to get someone in trouble or a rule of law to consult in a high court of the agile tribunal. We are all human with our own feelings, experiences and bad days. Lets make it easy and open to be able to talk to each other about what kind of environment we want to work in.
Its good to add this to the meeting agenda and lead with at the top of the meeting. I’ve learned how it’s refreshing to see this type of meeting especially for those who have never worked in a setting where their voice matters, or the voices of their teammates.
Pause a moment and ask for questions. Let people feel it out, poke at the goal and make sure everyone is on the same page for the task at hand.
A theme in a lot of my blog posts, take notes. Take a lot of notes. It's alright to distill down the working agreement after the meeting. But take a bunch of notes and add names to them as much as you can. You might find it useful to revisit what someone has said.
I usually keep a shared doc open on the screen for the whole team to see what I’m writing down and to ask if I captured the essence of what they are talking through.
Once you are done with the meeting, its also important to share this document out with the team and allow everyone to read and comment on the notes. Maybe someone had a specific example they wanted to add, or a clarification to an item logged during the meeting they thought of later.
I break down the session into two primary sections. The first is about the team rules. This is how individuals want to be treated, things they bother them and actions they hate and love to see working in a team. This might be difficult for some, especially if some of you’re team hasn't worked in a larger team before.
I usually keep a couple things in my pocket for if this part starts a bit rough. My number one thing
Assume Good Intent in all interactions, always. It’s very rare to have someone work with you that is intentionally trying to sabotage your progress.
These team rules can literally be anything and I hope you write them all down, too. You might gain some insights into people you didn’t already know.
I've had teams making rules about bringing smelly food into the enclosed team rooms, being onetime to all meetings (this will come up in the next section), how we close out standup every morning and how to address difficult feedback.
This is going to be very unique to your team at the time you write these down. Its also going to evolve and you should hold sync ups about these agreements when major changes happen to your team.
The next section I focus on is exceptions. This is for the individuals on the team to ensure a happy team for the individual. :confused-face:
Here again I have a few items in my pocket to throw out if things are slow to start. Being on time to meetings is something I try very hard to do. I want us to start on time, and end on time. I want everyone to have their voice heard and to not rush to end the meeting because we’re over time. So I task everyone to try to be on time to all meetings, not for them, but for the team.
I again address the respecting each other and the pillar of assuming good intent. This is super important for me and for the team. It also shines outward in the interactions with other teams. Everyone has a different way of working and that’s great. As long as we know and respect each others boundaries.
Here we also try to define the meetings, the time frames and the expectations of work as a team we agree to. In some cases that is swarming on the testable column to get tickets out the door, other times it might be how and when to call out a risk, how to bring feedback to a process and the process of changing our processes.
I have found this section to be driven a little closer by the manager of the team. Setting a clear guard rail for the team to self regulate and to be on time for each other.
Once you have all this great information and its distilled down into a clear and readable list of rules and items we all agree on, its time to document this in a highly visible area. Most companies have a wiki or intranet where you can have your own team pages. This is the perfect place to put it.
It's public for your team to see, to watch and monitor for edits. Other teams can see it and know how to best interact with you and your team. It also isn’t chiseled into stone and can be revised along the way.
When you document the agreement and put it up in a public space, make sure you pass that link to every nook and cranny of the team. We have our team wiki as a fast link on our Jira sidebar, in the team slack channel and I routinely post it for the team to view. Get the message out, this is how our team is working and how we treat each other.
I highly recommend setting up a team working agreement no matter the situation you find yourself in. This can be the difference between a team that is good and a team that is great. A team that knows where each others boundaries are and a team that is transparent and open to talk about the things that work well and not so well.