How to run a working agreement meeting with your team

Common questions I get from new managers are

“How do I build a good culture for my team?”

“How do I make sure I start the team off right?”

Interestingly enough, the biggest mistake new managers make when building a great team is to create team rules in silo, without soliciting the team’s opinions.

From the team’s perspective, when a leader dictates team rules, it can feel authoritative with this top-down approach. Some teams with high psychological safety may be open to challenge those rules. But that’s rare. 

From a manager’s perspective, that’s  A LOT of pressure to come up with rules on how the team would work together when we are all unique and have different preferences.

When forming new teams, or teams have faced significant changes like team members joining or leaving, I highly recommend creating a working agreement.

A team’s working agreement is a document that contains a set of conditions by which the team has agreed as to how they’d like to work together.

For teams who have been together for a long time and may have developed bad habits that are affecting their delivery, a Working Agreement Meeting can help reset the team.

So, how do you run a team working agreement meeting?

A team working agreement is conducted similarly to how you would run a regular retrospective meeting. If you’re not familiar with running a retrospective, you can refer to this article for an introduction.

Introduce meeting purpose

At the beginning of the meeting, introduce everyone to the purpose of the meeting and any ground rules.

In this case, the purpose of the meeting is for the team to co-create a set of working conditions that will form the team’s working agreement.

A few examples of ground rules could be:- 

  • Being fully present (pause all Slack notifications),
  • Listen with curiosity,
  • A reminder to the team that all ideas are valid (to encourage psychological safety), 
  • There are no silly questions, 
  • Share your ideas concisely (if you have a big team and want to ensure everyone’s heard)

Typically, I facilitate this meeting with these four categories – Health Signals, Psychological Safety, Accountability and Logistics. You can change / add to suit your team’s needs. For example, instead of Logistics, you may narrow it further as Communications instead.

Health Signals

The first category is health signals. Questions to get the team to reflect could be:

  • What are the health signals to indicate to us that our team is high-performing? 
  • What are some of the things you should see?
  • What are some of the things we shouldn’t see?

Some responses to health signals I’ve heard are:

  • More pair-programming
  • Frequent touch-points
  • Everyone is aware of what everyone is working on
  • More collaboration

These ideas are great but vague. What does more pair programming look like? Once a week Twice a week? 

Similarly, “more collaboration” sounds great but is missing details to make it actionable. A question to help probe further could be “What does more collaboration look like?” 

The answers to each category should be specific and actionable so that it’s clear to everyone on the team.

Psychological Safety

The second category is psychological safety. If you’re not familiar with this term, you can read up on the findings through the Project Aristotle done by Google on what makes a team effective. Out of the 5 attributes that contributed to building great teams, psychological safety is ranked as the top most importat attribute.

Psychological safety is defined as a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. – Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School Professor

Questions to get the team to reflect could be:

  • How can we create an environment that is psychologically safe for everyone?
  • What do you need to feel psychologically safe?
  • How can we encourage everyone to voice their ideas?

Some responses to health signals I’ve heard are:

  • Have a monthly retrospectives
  • Have an environment that is open for any questions
  • Call team members out for not fostering psychological safe environment

One of my favourite ideas for this category is “Sending an agenda or relevant material before a meeting so that all attendees have enough time to process the material and contribute.

All of us communicate and process information differently. Some team members are quick to think on the spot and not afraid to challenge in the moment. Other team members need time to process a question and prefer to take the time to come up with a thorough response.

That is why I like sending an agenda or giving instructions on how to come prepared for a meeting as it caters to the second group who can often be misunderstood as quiet or not having an opinion.

 

If you’re still reading, you might be interested in my “How to Run a Remote Working Agreement Meeting” guide.

Accountability

The third category is accountability. Questions to get the team to reflect could be:

  • How can we help each other be accountable to our actions?
  • How do we like to be reminded when we make a mistake or forget something?
  • What’s our preferred way to give and receive feedback?

This is an important category because it lets the team share openly about how the team prefers to receive feedback when mistakes happen before it happens so there’s less awkwardness. It also reminds us not to assume that everyone likes to receive feedback the same way.

 

Logistics

The last category is logistics. I prefer to put this at the end of the meeting because with less time, it forces the team to make decisions quickly on logistics.

When given more time, I’ve seen teams go into rabbit-holes, spending time coming up with sophisticated processes when simple processes will do.

If there are changes to the agreement with logistics, it’s typically an easy change, without needing another meeting.

Questions to get the team to reflect could be:

  • How often should we share project updates? Would that be asynchronous or synchronous?
  • What tools (Slack, meeting) should we be using for updates?
  • How would the team like to be notified when folks leave on vacation?
  • What communication would reside in Slack vs email?
  • How would we try to coordinate with Product Managers or Designers to ensure we have one source of truth?
  • What team name should we call ourselves? 

What’s next?

This agreement doesn’t end once the meeting ends. As a manager, it’s your role to observe and guide the team to use this agreement.

If the team chooses to operate against the agreement which negatively impacted the team, 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).

Comment/email me : Can you think of a team that will benefit from a team working agreement? Do you feel confident running one? Why or why not?

 Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

If you find this blog post helpful, you may enjoy the guide I’ve put together for you to further support you in running a remote team working agreement. I’ve included instructions on how to prepare prior to the session and handy tips when ideation goes long etc.

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