🀝Working Agreements Workbook

A guide to establishing and utilizing working agreements in your Tech Fleet Project

What are working agreements and why do we need them?

Working agreements, also known as team agreements or ground rules, are a set of explicit guidelines and expectations established by a team or group to govern how they will work together effectively. These agreements help create a shared understanding of how team members will interact, communicate, and collaborate to achieve their goals. Working agreements are commonly used in various contexts, including Agile and Scrum development teams, but they can be applied to any group or project where people need to work together cohesively.

Key Aspects of Working Agreements
  1. ​Team Behavior: Working agreements define the expected behavior and attitudes of team members. They can include guidelines on respect, collaboration, and inclusivity.

  2. Communication: These agreements often specify how team members should communicate with each other. For example, they might outline which communication tools to use (email, Slack, in-person meetings, etc.) and when to use them.

  3. Meeting Protocols: Working agreements can establish rules for team meetings, such as starting and ending on time, setting agendas, and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to speak.

  4. Decision-Making: Teams may define how they will make decisions, whether through consensus, voting, or another method. This ensures that everyone understands the decision-making process.

  5. Conflict Resolution: Working agreements can address how conflicts and disagreements will be handled within the team, such as through open dialogue or involving a mediator.

  6. Roles and Responsibilities: They can clarify each team member's role and responsibilities, ensuring that everyone knows what is expected of them.

  7. Task Management: Teams may establish guidelines for task management, including how work is assigned, tracked, and reported.

  8. Accountability: Working agreements can define how team members will hold each other accountable for their commitments and actions.

  9. Documentation: They may decide on how documentation will be created, stored, and maintained to ensure transparency and accessibility.

  10. Iteration and Improvement: Teams often agree to periodically review and adjust their working agreements to adapt to changing circumstances and improve their collaboration.

By establishing and following working agreements, teams can promote a more harmonious and productive working environment, ultimately leading to better outcomes.

Check out the Working Agreements Template for ideas on what to include in your team's working agreements.

How do we implement working agreements?

Working agreements are created collaboratively by a project’s team members. It's essential that everyone has a say in their creation, and they should be revisited and adjusted as needed throughout the project's life cycle.

Within a Tech Fleet Project, there are two levels of working agreements:

  1. Whole team, project-wide working agreements

  2. Individual team (e.g., Research, Design, Dev, etc.) working agreements

Depending on the needs of your team, these two levels of agreements may look exactly the same, or individual teams may want to alter certain agreements, such as allowed days and times for meetings.

The project management leads will be in charge of instigating the co-creation of project-wide working agreements at the beginning of the project phase, as well as monitoring how the agreements are working for the team throughout the phase. Individual team leads will be responsible for doing the same for their teams.

Leads may want to schedule periodic check-ins with their team to see how they are feeling about the working agreements. Sprint retro meetings can be a good time to have these discussions with the larger team, and can also provide an opportunity to create action items for improvements moving forward.

Troubleshooting Issues with Working Agreements

How to resolve disagreements in the formation of working agreements

Any time a group of people comes together, there are bound to be disagreements, and the conversations to form working agreements amid a diverse group of people are no exception.

For guidance on building blocks for productive team communication, read Tech Fleet’s communication guide.

When teammates disagree, take a step back to discuss the reasoning behind the agreements. Ask why a certain aspect of the agreement is important. Here you might find that some aspects are more or less important than others, which is a great opportunity to reach consensus around the aspects that are non-negotiable for your team. Think of this as creating an MVP (minimum viable product) of your agreement. If the disagreement is over an aspect that isn’t part of that MVP vision, perhaps you can cut it from your working agreement and move on.

Putting issues to a vote can be an efficient way to keep things moving. Once everyone has had a chance to share their viewpoint, set up a vote. You could do this in FigJam with stickers, or anonymously via a Google Form or another polling tool.

For some aspects of a working agreement, if consensus can’t be reached, team leads could act as deciders and make the final decision. A compromise may be that the agreement will be trialed for a few weeks, at which point the team can re-group and discuss whether it is working well for the team or needs to be altered.

It can be easy to get caught up in the details during a disagreement and forget the bigger picture. It may be helpful to unite the team around your shared purposes and intentions, and remind everyone that the working agreements are a tool to help us achieve our shared goals.

What to do if working agreements aren't being followed

We’re all human and prone to mistakes. When a working agreement is not being followed, it’s best to address the issue quickly. Sometimes, this is as easy as instigating a conversation and gently but firmly reminding everyone of the parameters you all agreed to. People are often operating under the best of intentions without realizing the impact their behaviors are having until it’s pointed out to them. Emphasize to your whole team that individual actions affect the group and project outcomes.

Every member of a team should feel empowered to speak up with concerns, but it falls to leads to facilitate the resolving of issues.

When it’s time to have a one-on-one conversation, schedule a meeting with that person. These conversations are difficult to hold via Slack messages because written words lack tone and are prone to misinterpretation.

Before your meeting, organize your thoughts and set a plan for what you’d like to say. Take a few deep, calming breaths and don’t allow your emotions to get in the way of having a productive and constructive conversation.

Lead with empathy and give someone who has violated the working agreement a chance to rectify their behavior, if this is something they are willing and able to do. If they are unwilling or unable to adjust their behavior, it might be time for them to leave the team and the project. If that is the case, it’s time to bring in your project lead and project coordinator, who can help facilitate your team roster changes, including hiring a new apprentice.

Remember that everyone is entitled to privacy. If someone is violating the working agreement because of something going on in their personal life, that’s their business. You do not need to know, nor should you demand, an explanation. If an individual wants to share the why behind their behavior, allow them that space. But do not pry.

Consider, too, the possibility that your working agreement might need to be adjusted. These are living documents and should be revisited to make sure they are operating as intended. If you’re seeing systemic failure to follow the working agreement, the problem might not be the people but the agreement itself.

When needed, set up a meeting for your team dedicated to revisiting and adjusting a working agreement. Make space for everyone’s ideas about how to improve the working agreement.

Example: Process for addressing commitment and communication issues

Here’s an example of steps that might be taken by a project or team lead when there is a breach of the team’s working agreements. If you decide to take this approach for your project, make sure that these guidelines are shared with the team before work begins, and everyone is in agreement.

Step 1: Identify and Evaluate Commitment Issues

  • Document instances of individuals not meeting their project commitments, including missing meetings, failing to meet deadlines, or not responding to messages within 48 hours (minus weekends) without notice.

  • Evaluate whether these behaviors have led to an unfair distribution of work, where others take on more due to unavailability.

(Note: Unfair distribution of work refers to situations where team members have no choice but to take on extra tasks due to a lack of availability or commitment of another team member, without prior discussion and notice. This is distinct from unequal distribution which is discussed transparently and agreed upon between leads and apprentices.)

Step 2: Initiate a Conversation

  • If commitment issues are observed, a respectful conversation will be initiated with the individual to address the concerns.

  • The documented instances will be shared, and potential solutions to improve commitment and participation will be discussed.

Step 3: Escalate to Project Manager (if needed)

  • If the issue persists or if the individual remains unresponsive to the conversation, the matter will be escalated to the project manager.

  • The project manager will initiate a conversation with the individual to discuss TechFleet protocols (in Apprentice and Lead Handbooks) related to leaving the project early, ensuring a clear and transparent exit process.

  • The project manager will record the individual's early departure from the project in the Tech Fleet HR Tracking Sheet.

  • Additionally, any party directly involved in the above process can inform a project manager at Step 1 or 2 that they're currently in this process if they feel they need support.

In implementing working agreements, it's critical to balance commitment to the project with the recognition of individual capacities. Team members each have personal lives and responsibilities that merit consideration. It’s important to acknowledge that not everything can be prescriptively outlinedβ€”some norms and practices will naturally evolve and remain unspoken.

Overburdening collaboration with too many rules and rigid expectations risks slipping into micromanagement, which can erode team morale and affect retention. The essence of a thriving team lies not in the quantity of rules but in the quality of understanding and respect for each other's contributions and boundaries.

The most sustainable agreements are often those reached by consensus. Such agreements are lived, not just documented. When a team collectively decides on its principles, each member is more likely to feel a sense of ownership and commitment to these shared standards. The goal is to create a framework that supports professional needs while also honoring personal well-being.

Strive for working agreements that act as a compass rather than a map, guiding the team with principles that can adapt to the changing landscape of project work. This lays the groundwork for a dynamic and resilient team culture that is rooted in mutual respect, flexibility, and the collective pursuit of excellence.

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