Flex Basics
March 11, 2024

Team Agreements: An Essential Foundation for a Flexible, High-Performing Team

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Gwen Stirling-Wilkie
Senior-Level Advisor
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Picture a future where unproductive meetings vanish from your calendar and the daily interruptions take a back seat, granting you the luxury of honing in on deep-focus work. And here's the kicker – that constant pressure of being 'always on' finally subsides. Sounds like a dream, doesn't it?

Well, welcome to the reality of team agreements. Just imagine the newfound freedom that unfolds for you and your team – the kind that propels you to dive deep into your priorities and kick your collaborative efforts into high gear.

In this article, we're not just scratching the surface. We'll delve into the nitty-gritty details behind team agreements, understand why they're absolute game-changers for distributed teams, and walk you through the three essential steps to create your very first team agreement. So buckle up as we embark on a journey to transform the way you work and collaborate. Let's dive in!

What is a Team Agreement?

A team agreement is a set of agreed protocols and ways of working created by the team, for the team. It sets the foundation for team norms, accepted team behaviors, and ways of working, irrespective of where team members are located. Team agreements are detailed in nature, making the most of the type of flexibility adopted by your organization, working within any boundaries that may have been set for where and when you work.

Why is a Team Agreement Needed?

Let’s start by looking at some data that shows how much current ways of working need changing:

  • 63% of us find it hard to collaborate with colleagues. We are confused by which platforms and apps to use and say that needing to switch between applications makes it hard to collaborate with our colleagues.

  • 60% of meeting attendees view meetings as ineffective and a major time waster. We are spending as much as 40% of our work time in meetings, and the average meeting is now 50 minutes long.

  • 53% of us feel pressure to respond to messages quickly to show we are working and being productive – our stress levels are rising as we keep our online status active.

  • 81% of managers indicate that creating alignment through a Team Agreement is a current priority for them. On a recent Omni-Working webinar we discovered that creating team cohesion and high performance is high on the agenda for leaders.

A Three Step Guide to Creating a Team Agreement

1. Embrace the Art of Co-Creation

Co-creation is a powerful approach used to involve all the members of the team in creating the team agreement. Being involved in co-creating changes that impact the way we work helps us feel heard, valued, and part of something. We have a sense of agency and freedom to act within agreed boundaries rather than conforming to something imposed upon us. We are less likely to feel anxious and more likely to embrace and commit to something we’ve had a hand in creating.

There are three stages in co-creating team agreements:

  1. Prepare – Involve the team in gathering information on the six topics below. This information will form the basis of your co-creation working session. You may also want to ask team members to do some pre-thinking about ways in which they feel the team could work more effectively together.

  2. Co-Create – Facilitate a working session to discuss the topics and agree what will best enable you to become a flexible high-performing team given your team’s operating context. This working session could take place online, or it may be a great opportunity for meeting in person to deepen the team’s understanding of each other and build trusted relationships.

  3. Review — After an agreed period to conduct some experiments and test out the team agreement, pause to review what is/isn’t working, and adjust accordingly.

2. Essential Topics to Explore

There are six key topics to explore together and agree on what arrangements are needed for your team, how these will happen, and where they will happen.

  1. Purpose and Performance – Clarify what the team is there to deliver and how that connects to wider organizational goals and priorities. Agree on how you will keep progress visible to yourselves and others. Create clarity on team priorities, accountabilities, and expectations of each team member.

  2. Collaboration - There are two types of collaboration to include in your team level agreement: Core Hours and Generative Collaboration.

    • Core Hours – This is an agreed time each day when the team will be actively available online for collaborating and moving something forward. Try to stick to a set window each day as this creates a rhythm and ritual for the team. Doing this means you can then block out other times during the day for that deep-thinking, focused work when you don’t want to be interrupted.

    • Generative Collaboration – This is for when you want to do more in-depth collaboration, generate new thinking and ideas, build and develop ideas further, or problem solve. Agree when you will use asynchronous approaches (e.g. using digital whiteboards where people can contribute at a time that suits them) versus synchronous work (e.g. in an online meeting or in person gathering).

  3. Meetings – This is one of the biggest areas where teams can make a change, reduce time spent in unproductive meetings, and free up time to get work done.

    • Agree how and where you will meet — whether that is in person or online.

    • Be clear of the purpose of each meeting you schedule, what needs to happen (decision, discussion, or approval), and who needs to attend

    • Identify the agenda items that can be covered async, such as performance updates, and save the meeting for topics that require discussion or decision.

    • Embrace the principle of ‘active participation’ where people take time to prepare for a meeting, do any pre-thinking, and attend ready to participate.

  4. Communication – Decide which platforms or apps you will use to keep each other informed, respond to questions, or make quick decisions.

    • Agree when you will use short video updates for one way communication, versus topic-related chat boards.

    • Some organizations only use email to communicate with people who are outside their organization, preferring all internal communication take place on platforms like Slack.

  5. Team Digital Workspace – Agree where the team’s digital workspace is located, where project folders and documents are kept, how progress on a project is tracked, and how outcomes delivered are made visible.

  6. Personal Working Practices – Listen to what is important to each team member about what they need in order to do their best work, and balance that with the needs of the team and your deliverables.

    • Having a sense of autonomy and being able to shape and flex our day is an important motivator for each one of us.

    • Agreeing and maintaining boundaries within the team agreement allows you to say no to attending meetings and switch off your availability during focus time.

    • This is a good time to review and adjust your own personal working habits – time blocking your calendar and restructuring your time around key priorities will increase your effectiveness.

3. Bringing It to Life Everyday

Once you’ve created a team agreement and tested it out, the responsibility for bringing it to life everyday lies with the whole team. It may not all work perfectly the first time as it can take a while to change behaviors and habits. Try briefly talking about how you are doing with your team agreements at the end of a team meeting or on a dedicated team chat. That way it stays top of mind.

Reap the Benefits with a Strong Foundation for a High-Performing Team

With your team agreement created, it’s now time to reap the benefits:

  1. Enhanced Performance — With clear expectations and consistent performance, your team is poised for improvement. Flexibility in scheduling allows optimal productivity.

  2. Stress Reduction and Efficiency Boost — Define team operations, clarify expectations, and witness a reduction in stress and a collective boost in effectiveness.

  3. Trust Boost and Closer Bonds — Co-creating the agreement strengthens relationships, fostering trust and cohesion within the team

And remember, your team agreement isn't just a document; it's the catalyst for a positive shift in team dynamics. The dynamic nature of today’s work landscape may necessitate revisiting it more frequently than just once a year.

Stay agile, adapt, and keep your agreement finely tuned to ensure it remains a dynamic tool for your team's success. Embrace change and watch your team thrive in this new era of collaboration!

About the Author

Gwen Stirling-Wilkie

Gwen Stirling-Wilkie is a leading thinker on the future of work and senior-level advisor for
leaders wanting to build high-performance flexibility into their business operating strategy.
Based in the UK, she has tracked how the seismic events of the last four years have
accelerated a working revolution in flexible and distributed working. She provides advice,
guidance, and support for leaders as they review, refresh, and reimagine work models to
create a modern workplace.

Her latest book ‘Omni-Working: Work Effectively in All Ways, from All Places’ is available on Amazon. The book features her unique concept, the Omni-Working Framework, which
encourages leaders to transcend the focus on where people work and look instead at HOW
people work.

She can be contacted through www.omni-working.com, gwen@omni-working.com or LinkedIn.

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