One of the most valuable documents teams can create is a Team Agreement. Team Agreements for software development can range from very detailed specifications of coding standards and practices to a general statement of moral and ethical conduct, or anywhere in between. Team agreements help set the context for team member expectations and provide a framework for the team to operate within. Here are some guidelines for creating effective team agreements.
1. Have a process
It is helpful to have a process for creating a team agreement. Decide who will be part of drafting the agreement and what the feedback process will be for approval. Identify the tasks needing to be done and engage as many team members as possible.
2. Decide what is most important
Depending on the maturity and challenges your team is facing, you may want to focus different things. Some team agreements are more concerned with technical practices while other state principles the team will adhere to. Every team has things they do well and things they do not-so-well. Start with what is most important for your team to keep top of mind.
3. Draft a charter
Draw up a document that states affirmatively the things that are most important to your team. Typically, this will include ten to thirty items. The document can start, “We agree…” followed by the list of agreed upon items. Rather than making this a list of rules to follow, try to make each item empower team members to do their best in situations. At the bottom of the document should be a space for each team member’s signature. Use poster board or butcher paper so the whole document can be on one sheet.
4. Involve everyone
The more everyone feels they have a say in the creation of the team agreement the more likely they will abide by it. Go over each item and get everyone to discuss and vote on whether to include it or not. This is a team building process which is just as important as the document itself.
5. Ask for feedback
Any impediments to agreement are opportunities for alignment. Ask the team for feedback; how will following this agreement improve their jobs. Meet resistance with curiosity to discover what the real challenges are. Get people to recognize the value to them of each item or have them help change it to address their real issues.
6. Get everyone’s agreement
Meet with the entire team and decide together if the proposed charter is something each and every team member can sign off on and abide by. There is a lot of power to signing one’s name to a document. This can even become a ceremony of sorts where team members are acknowledged thanked for their contributions.
7. Keep it visible to everyone
Finally, once the Team Agreement is created and signed, hang it on the wall in a prominent place to remind everyone of what they stand for. Seeing this document day in and day out can really help to solidify the ideas and make them part of everyone’s daily work life. And most of all live it—make it part of your daily lives.
Team Agreements can be a powerful way for the team to quickly reach alignment and work together more smoothly. It can help form the context of a working environment where everyone is empowered to do their best.