What is a Working Agreement?

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Teamwork doesn't just happen. When you pull a project team together for a job, they can disagree in a hundred ways, from how the team should divide the work to whether they can check cellphones during team meetings. A working agreement resolves the questions so everyone is on the same page.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A working agreement spells out the ground rules for your project team.

Why Use a Working Agreement?

You may think it makes perfect sense to refrain from texting during a team meeting, even if the texting is strictly business. Some of your team members may think it's much more efficient to multitask. That's just one of the issues that can crop up. Consider questions such as:

  • Is it acceptable to interrupt another speaker in a meeting?

  • How much of your team's discussions is confidential?

  • If someone comes into a meeting late, will you stop to catch him up on what's been discussed?

  • When someone can't make it to a team meeting, should she notify you in advance?

A working agreement spells out the answers. Everyone on your team knows the procedures to follow, knows what's expected and knows what's considered appropriate conduct. A working agreement isn't only about efficiency. It's also about keeping your team engaged and feeling respected.

Forms of Agreement

Unless your company has employee policies in place covering these situations, you're free to go with whatever works.

  • With a small team where everyone knows each other, a verbal discussion of the ground rules may be all that's necessary. 

  • In other situations, a written working agreement may be a smart move.

  • If you've developed a working agreement for past projects, you can present it to your team. However, you should be open to changes if it doesn't meet the team's needs.

  • You and the team can work together to create the agreement.

Creating Team Agreements

If you're starting from scratch, sit down with your team and discuss what everyone wants in an agreement. What issues need to be covered? What rules are you going to adopt?

Creating team agreements doesn't have to be as complicated and detailed as corporate bylaws or "Robert's Rules of Order." A good working agreement should be simple, with just a few guidelines. Ideally, you could explain it all to a new team member in 30 seconds.

It's important that you get buy-in from the team, so listen to what they think is important in the agreement. If you have to overrule them, make it clear why you're making your decision. Even if you have lots of project management experience, don't assume this team's needs are identical to all the others you've directed.

What to Cover

The goal of every working agreement is to lay ground rules that will help your team's performance. That means different things to different project teams, but there are some topics with which most teams will want to deal.

  • Time. When are team members available online or in the office? How will they notify others of vacation or sick days? Are members expected to show up on time for meetings? Should they notify you in advance if there's a conflict?

  • Meeting procedure. When and where does the team come together? Who attends which meetings? Do you want heated debate or only constructive criticism? How important is it to stick to the agenda?

  • Sharing information. How does the team stay in touch

    Slack? Email? Dropping by each other's office? How will they share information? If you need to know someone's schedule for the day, where can you find it?

You should be able to draw up a working agreement in a half hour or so. An agreement isn't a binding contract, so it doesn't have to be perfect. If you discover the ground rules aren't working, or you overlooked something, you can convene another discussion to make changes.

References

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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