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Team Agreements: What You Need to Know

Team Agreements create accountability

By Mark Samuel –

What are team agreements?

Team agreements are agreements that are co-created by the members of a team about how to behave, communicate, and work together on a team.

Related Article: The Missing Link for Business and Culture Transformation

Business teams are often treated like a group of individuals working together, rather than a cohesive unit. We hope that our individual styles, ways of communicating, work intentions and expectations, and skills will somehow come together to successfully produce the results we’re looking for. Unfortunately, that’s not the way successful teams function and it makes being accountable to each other nearly impossible. Teams need to work collectively and cohesively to produce results, and team agreements are a great tool to help teams do that.

It’s important for a team to create shared agreements about how the team is going to operate together to produce results. This can include things like how the team communicates with one another, the protocol for resolving interpersonal conflict, how the team problem-solves together, and how to make decisions within the team.

Every team will have different team agreements based on the desired outcomes of that team as well as past issues that the team has experienced. The value of team agreements is that they take a team from operating as individuals to operating as a cohesive unit, just like any sports team or musical group and they provide a metric for accountability.

How do you establish ground rules in a team?

To establish ground rules in a team, you need to think first and foremost of your desired outcomes, followed by the reasons for which those outcomes are not being met.
For example, if the breakdown is occurring at the level of agreeing on the desired outcomes, the team would need to create an agreement around determining goals and desired results, such as deciding on someone to be the final decision-maker, creating process around surfacing and presenting ideas, or keeping long-term vs short-term pictures in mind.

On the other hand, if a team has an agreement around the desired outcomes, they may need agreements around strategy or process used to accomplish those goals. This could be anything from problem-solving protocols to communication preferences to agreements to understand each other’s business or personal constraints as they relate to those goals.

It’s important to remember that every team will be different, and agreements should be personalized to each team depending on what they need.

Starting Guide: Working Team Agreement Template

How many agreements should a team have?

Many teams want to know how many agreements they should have. There’s no one size fits all; it depends on many things including the size of the team, the desired outcomes of the team, and what the team can handle as far as introducing new habits. It’s best to have enough agreements to cover the team’s needs but not so many that they become overly complicated or difficult to stay accountable to.

How do you know if they are working?

To know if your team agreements are working, you will have an experiential and measurable shift. For example, you should have fewer breakdowns, faster meetings, better communication, and increased ease in problem-solving. You should also be able to measure the outcomes of your efforts such as increased profits or clientele, more positive client reviews, and greater and more focused productive outcomes.

To know for sure if your agreements are producing positive results, it’s important to take measurements through a survey or picking a few areas for improvement and having the team individual weigh in on how they think the team is doing in those areas. Then, every 3 to 6 months, revisit those areas and see if the individuals on the team rank team success as higher or lower.

Team Agreement vs Team Contract

You can think of a team contract as the entire document of team agreements, while the team agreements themselves are the individual agreements that the team has decided to be accountable for.

The benefit of a team contract is that each member of the team buys into being accountable. Because the entire team created the contract together, it should represent shared and agreed-upon decisions about how the team is going to function. Each member has agreed to be accountable for the contract and therefore they can hold themselves and each other accountable, rather than anyone on the team feeling like they’re being forced into something they didn’t agree to.

The team contract can also be used when bringing new people onto the team. You can show the new person the team agreements and know right away whether or not they’ll be a fit for the team depending on how they respond to the agreements.
Of course, team agreements and team contracts can always change as time goes on and as the team learns to function together differently and achieve different, better results. Remember – your desired business outcomes are your North Star. The agreements are in service to your outcomes.

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