We start the new team. We gathered a group of talented individuals and we want to grapple with the new challenge. How can we accelerate the team forming, storming and norming phase? We should start with team agreements. Once done, this exercise will boost team productivity. It will also help to create and maintain the team identity. It shouldn’t be the detailed documentation of the team proceedings in the wiki-style procedure. Instead, we should agree on things that are important for our team. Let’s take a look.
Tribal knowledge. Very often this term is a synonym of the lack of documentation. As usual, there is a dichotomy there. We don’t want to have detailed documentation that describes every single step for every process in the team and company. This kind of documentation tends to be outdated as soon as we put the last dot in it. On the other hand, lack of any documentation leads to confusion, unnecessary waste of time and in many cases frustrations on reinventing the wheel.
When it comes to the team dynamics and collaboration, the daily rituals and all team members’ interactions are formed based primarily on the company culture and the leader example. The team agreements exercise will help to create clarity on what is essential for us, how we want to collaborate, how we want to keep ourselves accountable.
Accountability is one of the essential characteristics of the high performing team. We should know how to do it appropriately, as this is a subtle art, rather than hard technical skill. It is never easy. And that’s why we should write it down in our team agreements. It will help everyone in the team to keep other members accountable.
It will also be a tool for some uncomfortable discussions. Sometimes it may lead to changing the team agreement on some particular topic. But it’s always good to get it written, possibly with the comment what do we mean by this statement.
There is no guidance on what should and shouldn’t go to the team agreements. We should be open to everyone and everything. From practical reasons, it doesn’t make sense to include the exact time when we meet for standup, for instance. We would need to revisit it every time we move our meeting by 10 min. On the other hand, we absolutely should include some statement about respecting people time, especially when we have people in many time zones.
The key here is to be open to other people’s needs. Everyone should be heard. Everyone should be able to express their opinions, concerns and be able to influence the team agreements. When we work as a fully distributed team, the other aspect of this topic is culture. Some people will be more direct, and some people may form particular sentences in a certain way as they speak a different native language. In many cases, we should be open to understanding their intentions. I personally love one of our team agreements:
Trust and psychological safety
There are two schools when it comes to running the teams. One says we need to control everybody. In this case, management starts to be very creative with any controls that are imposed on everyone; time cards, mouse trackers, detailed reports of daily activity and so on. On the other hand, we have a different approach. We are adults, and we want to achieve some goals together. Everyone understands our mission and strategy. Let’s work together to achieve some tangible results.
When it comes to the team agreements, we want to help to create and maintain trust. We build trust by trusting others. In team agreements, we should say something about being equal, having the voice heard and making sure we respect each other. Sometimes it’s taken for granted, and it’s already included in the company mission statement or core values. In my opinion, we should always take it to the grand level and have it in the team agreements. Trust and psychological safety are very fragile and should be explicitly taken care of at any occasion.
Practical tips for team agreements
- Create team agreements when a new team is formed.
- Revisit the team agreements whenever a new person joins the team.
- Include your mission statement and core values in the team agreement document. It will help to set up the tone and make sure we align with them.
- Leave it vague, e.g. no point deciding on the concrete tools we use, but instead on “how” we do things (e.g. asynchronous communication).
- When the situation requires, do not hesitate to propose to review the team agreements and check particular statements.
- Team agreements: A key to high-performing, happy teams
- Create A Team Agreement For Your Remote Team
- Agile Team Working Agreements How-To Guide
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