An exercise for creating a team Working Agreement

A simple, remote-friendly exercise template for creating a team Working Agreement.

Bevan Williams
Apr 6, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

A Working Agreement is a valuable tool to use for establishing a shared understanding and way of working for teams. Also called a Social Contract, this practice is a great foundation for building high performing teams.

This Working Agreement exercise has been adapted from Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s 5 step structure from their book Agile Retrospectives. The five steps can be summarised as follows:

  • Set the stage — Goal: Set the tone and direction.
  • Gather data — Goal: Create a shared memory; highlight pertinent information and events
  • Generate insights — Goal: Think creatively; look for patterns, themes and connections
  • Decide what to do — Goal: Generate and prioritize valuable, clear actions
  • Close — Goal: Summarize and end the meeting

That said, in the context of Working Agreements you can run the following:

1) Set the stage (3 mins)

“Becoming a team involves commitment to working together and supporting each other in our common goals.

This commitment is supported by writing what all team members believe are important protocols for the team to comply with to maximize their capabilities to deliver faster and with higher quality.”

2) Gather Data (7 mins)

For remote teams we’ve used FunRetros with great success (the merge functionality for grouping and voting is really useful) if you want a more “traditional” feel, we’ve also played around with Web Whiteboard (the sticky notes look and feel is quite fun).

Like a retrospective, you can decide to limit focus by having each team member limited to 3 items, or you can gather more data by having no restriction on this. It’s important to encourage at least 2 items from each team member.

You can guide the discussion by suggesting some high level topics such as:

  • Time and location of Daily Scrum
  • Testing strategy (unit, functional, integration, performance, stress, etc…)
  • Build and infrastructure plans (shared responsbilities)
  • Team norms (be on time, respect estimates, help when needed, etc…)
  • How to address bugs/fires during Sprint
  • Product Owner availability (phone, office hours, attendance in Daily Scrum)
  • Expectations of each role and how they will work together at each phase of the SDLC

3) Generate Insights (15mins)

On FunRetro, you can create a column for Working Agreement Items, then you go through them top down and drag them to a second column, Groups. If an item exists in the Groups column that the team agrees is similar, you can merge the cards by dragging the card from Working Agreement Items to the corresponding card in the Groups column.

In person, you can do this by physically grouping sticky notes.

Optional — if you want to limit the number of groups based on importance to keep focussed on the “most important items”, you can then use voting to determine priority. This is optional because some teams have found value in this, while others have not. Use your team’s discretion on whether there are “too many” items are not. If no such phrases, or comments, are mentioned then the grouping can just be used as is in the next step. Voting is also useful if there are a large number of conflicting views on how to do things. What we want here is consent over consensus, i.e. consent is where no one objects, and consensus is where everyone agrees.

4) Decide What To Do (15 mins)

It’s important to remind the team that these actions are not set once off. They can (and should) change as we learn more about working together. Retrospectives are a good time to have an action that changes an existing working agreement if we realise it’s an impediment to working better together.

5) Close (5 mins)

This is also a good time to gather feedback from the team on the usefulness/effectiveness of this format for future usage. This can be done by fist-to-five voting.

On a count of three every team member holds up their fist displaying a number of 0 (bad) to 5 (great). Ask each person that shows a 0 to 3 what can be improved to get them to a 4 or 5. Use this feedback for future meetings/retrospectives or Working Agreement discussions.

PS. I’ve added the time boxes I use for each section, feel free to play around with this at your own discretion.

Think Agile

We inspire our clients to self-improve, serving them to…

Bevan Williams

Written by

Agile Coach. Ex-Manager, Ex-Engineer, obsessed with creating environments where people want to do their best work!

Think Agile

We inspire our clients to self-improve, serving them to unlock possibilities for individuals, organisations, communities, and industries.

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