Setting Agile Team Expectations and Working Agreements

illustration representing team working agreementsBy communicating clear expectations and working agreements,  teams create an environment where positive norms – rather than default habits – become their operating guidelines.

Think of the “Team Agreements” as the glue that helps bind a team together. This glue:

  • Fosters trust and openness
  • Creates a common vision
  • Generates a nutrient-rich environment for the team to identify both individual strengths and gaps in regard to those expectations
  • Provides an opportunity for continuous improvement.

Creating Team Expectations and Working Agreements

  1. Brainstorming Expectations: Have participants list their expectations for the team. The expectations will include both the key elements that have made the team great so far as well as aspirational “WIBNI”  (wouldn’t it be nice if…) goals. This can be run as a divergent brainstorming, or the facilitator can provide starting categories. Phil Montero, Founder of The Anywhere Office, uses three categories:
    • Information: What kind of information do you need for the projects you work on? Level of detail? Frequency? Metrics. Tolerate ambiguity. Deadlines. Definition of done.
    • Communication: e.g., What channels do you prefer, what are expected response times? What kinds of communication do you use to get your work done? Say-mean-do. Engagement. Conflict protocols. Morale.
    • Collaboration: e.g., How do you know what everyone is doing? Do you want to pair or work alone? Trust (between team members, in oneself). Leadership. Collective ownership. Handoffs. Environment. Decision Making. Core hours. Focus time. Vision. Values.
    • I am experimenting with a few other ‘buckets’
      • Process
      • Product
      • Platform
      • Purpose
      • People
      • Other: What else is important in terms of common expectations for team member behavior?
  2. Review and group:  Make sure everyone fully understands what each item means – discuss/modify notes as necessary, de-dupe, and group liked items by affinity.
    • When converging during the review, some common grouping themes are Communication, Process, Meetings, Collaboration, Code Quality, Team Work, Value, Quality, Commitment, and Trust.
  3. Feedback: kudos and gaps… (Optional)
    • Kudos:  Everyone notes (at least) one thing that they feel that another does that makes the team better, that is an area of an individual’s strength as it pertains to the impact on the group.
    • Expectation Gaps*: Individually and silently identify 1 to 5 expectation items that they think another team member could improve on the most – everyone would do this for themselves as well. Note for newly formed teams, it might be best to hold off on gap identification until the team has come up w an initial set of agreements, or at most have individuals self-identify gaps.
  4. Review Gaps*: Review the kudos and gaps from step 3, and for the top two or three gap items, the group discusses “reality as they see it” – and identifies as needed more detail where gaps between expectations and reality are for each recipient.
    • The recipient of the groups’ feedback can provide a brief reaction—not a rebuttal, but simply a reaction—to the feedback, striving for acceptance and appreciation.
    • Recipient identifies “What can I start doing today or tomorrow….”
    • Group can support with additional suggestions via “Yes, and….” (see: Plussing) (~2 min per recipient)

* For the “gaps” portion to be successful, all participants must be fully committed to:

  • Actively listening for understanding
  • Meeting each others’ expectations
  • Closing any gaps in behaviors
  • Supporting each other to problem solve and course correct when teammates have setbacks moving forward
  • And most importantly celebrating progress and success each and every day

Breaking the “Contract”

The “Expectations Agreement” lays a foundation – by establishing a set of common expectations for team member behavior – that teams can use to break a psychological contract that many suffer from: “I will not talk about you, or your performance in front of others if you don’t talk about mine.” (Not much good comes from that contract…).

Breaking the contract is a companion to fundamental principles of effective team communication:

Speak Honestly, Directly, and For Yourself

  • Be mindful of speaking only for yourself. Consciously use “I” and “Me.” Do not use “We” “They” “Us” “Everybody” “You” as a place to hide what you really mean to say.
  • Speak on your own behalf, not on behalf of others (present or not present)
  • Is everyone present who should be? Are you “triangulating” / “pairing”?
  • Be clear about your intentions and your expected outcome.
  • Don’t ask questions that are not really questions. If you can rephrase something as a statement, is it really a question?
  • Don’t ask “Why didn’t you….?” (Which makes the excuse that follows acceptable…) Ask instead:
    • Did you know how…?
    • Did you know what…?
    • Was it important to you…?

Rinse and Repeat

When creating or refining the Team Working Agreements, keep in mind the team is not going for perfection. Just a set of expectations and agreements that are “good enough for now” (GEFN) – that will guide and support the team moving forward.

The document is intended to be dynamic – if at any point they uncover issues or challenges,(e.g., after a retrospective) they will refactor it.

Working with Remote or Distributed Teams?

Lisette Sutherland from HappyMelly has shared the following post related to creating working agreements for remote teams:

Read More

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