A team without Work Agreements is like a machine without an operator’s manual.
Teammates might function at acceptable levels for a while, but they will not unify as one team.
Emotionally mature and productive teammates create Work Agreements because they have experienced the benefits of a unified team, one that has shared interests and common goals. Work Agreements are 1 of the 5 elements of the Right-Minded Teamwork framework.
A True Story
Below is a true story about how one team’s agreements saved them US$351,000 in their first year and increased teammate trust by 78%; however, let me give a little explanation about what Work Agreements are.
What are Work Agreements?
A work agreement is: a promise to transform non-productive work behavior; not a flimsy ground-rule; an emotionally-mature work performance agreement.
Nearly all teamwork issues are suitable for Work Agreements. There are two types.
A Process Agreement describes who will do what and the respective work methods. This agreement defines work tasks in terms of roles, responsibilities, interfaces, and/or procedures.
A Behavioral Agreement describes how people will behave while they perform their tasks, such as how teammates will bring to light, communicate, and resolve difficult performance issues or interpersonal conflict. This agreement strives for transparency in all interactions.
A well-written Work Agreement includes an Intention Statement that defines your team’s choice. An example:
- Each teammate will communicate their thoughts and feelings in appropriate ways.
Underneath each intention, you will include any needed clarifications and/or conditions for acceptance. Some examples:
- We follow the spirit and intent of our company values.
- If we believe another person is communicating inappropriately, we will call the behavior to their attention privately.
- Even though this agreement addresses inappropriate communication behaviors, we also agree to give positive teammate reinforcement when we see and hear good communication.
Work Agreements are created in team workshops where leaders and teammates openly discuss and agree on work performance behaviors that will clarify any unresolved interpersonal or process issues that are either hurting or potentially will hurt team performance.
Another true story:
Right-Minded Teamwork and Work Agreements are proven ways to build an emotionally intelligent team and save money in the process.
This field-support operations team had nine teammates who had previously worked together or had known each other for decades. They all were technically competent, but a huge amount of distrust among them produced emotionally unintelligent and immature teamwork behavior.
They were not happy. They were not productive. However, that’s not all.
Six of the nine team members were very aggressive with arrogant work attitudes and behaviors.
The team was previously “Leader-Led,” but their Senior Leadership Team recently told hem they had to become a “Self-Managing” Team. Teammates were angry with their leader for the Self-Managing decision. They were frustrated with their organization. They turned to me, Dan Hogan, for help.
In their first workshop, they created two Work Agreements. Three months later, those agreements played a pivotal part in creating what I have called a “Moment of Reason.” I’ll explain what that means, but first, let me summarize this story in chronological steps.
Before any team-building workshop, especially if that workshop is to create Work Agreements, the facilitator must diagnose the team’s current performance level. With this team, I conducted a Team Performance Assessment Survey. After studying the results of the first survey, I privately interviewed all nine teammates. Click on the image to see their first survey results.
Teammate trust, one of the 20 performance factors measured, was 3.13 out of possible a 7.00. Pretty bad, huh?
During the interviews, I learned about several teamwork dysfunctions, one of which regarding several teammates who exploded when they were emotionally frustrated. I called this dysfunction the Silent Volcano. In the first workshop, I created and presented to them a graphic illustration of their behavior. Take a moment and read it now by clicking on the image to enlarge it. I bet you have previously seen this behavior.
When the team saw this graphic, they realized and accepted that they, as a team, had to change. Now, they were willing to address their differences.
They decided to address two topics first: their lack of trust and how to become a successful Self-Managing Team.
- After they saw the Silent Volcano and chose their first two topics, I presented them with the Right-Minded Choice Model. The team liked the concept of Right-Minded accountable behavior because they believed the method would help them achieve trust and Self-Managing goals. After a short discussion, they agreed on specific attitudes and behaviors they wanted to implement immediately and in the future. To learn more about the model and to see the list of accountable behaviors, go to Right-Minded Choice User’s Page.
- Those behaviors were used to create two team Work Agreements. Instead of showing you the content of their agreements, which would be nice but not necessary for the story, suffice to say they created a Behavioral Agreement for improving trust and a Process Agreement for becoming Self-Managing.
- The team also agreed to conduct follow-up team building workshops once every three months. They asked me to facilitate these workshops and to administer a new survey every three months. I worked with them for two years.
Three months later, the overall survey results showed improvement. Teammate trust increased from 3.13 to 3.90, which is good for three months. Teammates were genuinely more motivated to continue teamwork improvement.
Moment of Reason
In the second workshop, a pivotal moment revolved around their agreements. This collective teammate moment was essentially a Moment of Reason.
A Moment of Reason is one of those moments when sanity and good behavior comes back into the minds of those who are temporarily out of their right minds. This moment positively changed the way these nine teammates treated and worked with each other going forward.
About an hour into the workshop, teammates fell back into their old, emotionally charged, Silent Volcano, way of interacting. They were arguing about something they had addressed three months earlier.
At one point, I was able to interrupt their bickering respectfully.
I asked them to pull out their team Work Agreements. When they re-read the agreements, one teammate sheepishly said, “We’ve already agreed on how we were to address that issue, haven’t we?”
“Yes,” I said. “Now, you only have two choices. You can argue and fight more, or you can recommit to your Work Agreements.”
Their Moment of Reason. In less than a minute, they unanimously concurred to recommit to their Work Agreements. This event is an example of how teammates, who are out of their minds, can move back into their right minds by living their agreements. For the rest of the second workshop and the other workshops, they never slipped back to their old ways of interacting.
As you will see in the third and fourth surveys, the team continued to improve over the next six months. Here are those survey results.
Team’s Actual Results after 1 Year
After the first full year of Self-Management, they presented to their Senior Leadership Team the following results.
Their survey results showed:
- an overall 45% improvement in the 20 team performance factors in the survey
- a 78% increase in teammate trust
- a 46% increase in mutual support
- a 61% increase in complying with decisions
- US$351,000 in savings.
They were happy. Their leaders and the team’s customers were happy. This group of nine teammates never fell back to their previous ineffective ways. They continued to improve in the next year, and they worked together for five more years.
A Work Agreement is a covenant, promise, or pledge that transforms dysfunctional and non-productive behavior. A Work Agreement is an emotionally mature and practical promise based on collaboration and achieving customer satisfaction.
I facilitated over 500 teams in my 35-year team-building career. I worked with many of those teams for several years. Every team created some kind of agreement. I assure you agreements work when teammates live them.
I am sure you will agree that it is not a matter of if conflict will occur among teammates, but when conflict will occur among teammates. For this reason, Work Agreements are even more successful when they are in place before disagreements happen, so teams can mitigate or even make good use of those clashes when they occur. Even if your team is currently in conflict, it’s never too late to create and live Work Agreements.
This team story is a typical example of how Work Agreements create Right-Minded Teamwork.
This success can happen in your team, too.
Do You Want to Bring Work Agreements into Your Team?
Three good resources:
- How to Facilitate Team Work Agreements – A Practical 10-Step Process.
- A good article that aligns with and helps teammates move through Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development: click here for the Work Agreement Series: the Six Stages of Work Agreements.
- A FREE Teamwork Tune-Up Exercise that guides your team toward creating a work agreement about how teammates can communicate their thoughts and feelings to each other. (Includes a video and a leader’s guide).
All the best to you,