I like to facilitate a team working agreement meeting when a new team has just formed or a team has gone through major changes like teammates leaving and/or joining new. And sometimes, I would facilitate this meeting for teams who are not doing that well to shake things up and to give them a fresh start.
A team working agreement is conducted similar to how I would run a regular retrospective meeting.
To set the stage, I will remind the team of the topic. And the topic is on how the team wants to work together, going forward.
The main activity will comprise of 4 main questions which I’ll get the team’s input on. You can change, add or remove these questions depending on your needs.
“What are the health signals to indicate to us that our team is high-performing? What are some of the things you should see?”
I might see ideas proposed like more pair-programming. If I see ideas like “more collaboration”, I will then probe more, and ask, “How? What is more collaboration? How would that look like? Does that look like pair-programming or something else?”
What I’ll try to get to is for the team to define more concretely the indications for team health.
Things like better communication is okay but too broad. What’s better, is for example, “Communicate on Slack every morning for status check-in. And the questions we will answer are…”
“How are we as a team going to create an environment that is psychologically safe for everyone on the team?
If you’re not familiar with this term, you can read up on Project Aristotle done by Google done by Google that they did on what makes a team effective and psychological safety is ranked as the number one attribute.
Psychological safety means team members feel safe to voice concerns or issues to the team and take risks regardless of role or rank.
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Holding each other accountable
Third, I’ll ask the team to write down ideas in terms of how we will hold each other accountable and how we can approach each other if a team member has let you down.
I really like this question as it lets us safely talk about how each person prefers to receive feedback when they’ve screwed up before it becomes real and more awkward later on. And also importantly, it reminds us not to assume that everyone likes to receive feedback the same way.
With this question, I would get each person to share how they would like to be held accountable and spoken to when mistakes happen.
Lastly, I’ll talk about logistics. I prefer to save this for last as nearing the end of the meeting, with less time, it forces the team to make decisions quickly on logistics. Some teams can get too detailed with logistics so I like to use less time for it. Usually, decisions made on logistics can be easily changed.
I’ll cover things like how often the team would like to share statuses. Weekly? Daily?
And how? Standups? Check-in meetings? Basecamp check-ins?
How would the team like to communicate when there’s changes with the projects? Only through Slack?
How would we try to coordinate with Product Managers or Designers to ensure we have one source of truth?
If this is a new team, perhaps they’ll need a new team name. And this could be added as part of logistics.
One important note is, as a manager, your role is to facilitate and offer guidance if needed. It’s up to the team to build on how they’ll like to work together.
This agreement doesn’t end once the meeting ends. As a manager, it’s your role to observe and guide the team and if the team chooses to operate against the agreement, remind them of the working agreement that they’ve set themselves.
They’ll have to either change their behaviour (for example, they may have taken short-cuts due to time pressure) or change the working agreement (for example, they’ve realized certain rules they’ve set aren’t applicable anymore).