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Efficacy of Team Working Agreement

More often than not, we take little things for granted. Although Agile/Scrum is simple (but you know simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy), there are a few (little) things that must be in place to ensure success, specifically achieve or create a high-performing team.

One of such little, albeit often neglected, things for high team performance and good working environment is a TEAM AGREEMENT. Almost all the Scrum Masters (and even Managers) with high performing and happy teams use Team Agreements. If you are a Lead Business Analyst or Project Manager with a happy and high performing team and you haven’t used a Team Agreement, then you must be one damn lucky fella. But how do I explain Team Agreement? Okay, let me use a TV Series. I am really not much of a movie or TV person. As a matter of fact, I can remember a couple of times, falling asleep more than twice in a cinema, in the middle of a movie. I have, however, managed to see a couple of movies and TV series, and some of the ones I have seen usually have very deep meanings with relatable and applicable concepts. One of such is BIG BANG THEORY and how a concept (ROOMMATE AGREEMENT) in the TV show helps improve team health and productivity, one of the most important things in working as a Project Manager or Business Analyst. To provide a bit of context, and also to be able to relate TEAM AGREEMENT with teams’ effectiveness, I will attempt to narrate this concept in the TV series, and marry that with the theme of this article.
In the TV Series BIG BANG THEORY, there was a character named Sheldon Cooper who had a friend and roommate named Leonard Hofstadter. In other to ensure the two friends, turned roommates, understand what is expected of each person, know what rights they both have, set boundaries, reduces friction and misunderstanding, Sheldon Cooper drafted a bunch of stuff and called it “ROOMMATE AGREEMENT”, and handed it over to Leonard Hofstadter to sign. Upon signing, the two friends and roommates were able to manage expectations and lived “happily”. While the period was ongoing, Sheldon reviewed and updated the agreements severally, albeit to favor him the more. But the objective of the agreement still remains to ensure they both live together happily.

Now the same concept applies with (Scrum) teams, except that the agreement is not drawn or written by just one person. In the remaining sections of this article, I am going to explain TEAM AGREEMENT using the WHAT-WHY-HOW theory.

So, WHAT is Team Agreement?

Usually, when starting out with a team, you don’t expect them to start operating in the PERFORMING stage of Bruce Tuckman’s Stage of Team Development model. Why is this? Well, most of the people on the team have different backgrounds, personalities, interests, and configuration. So in order to establish a modus-operandi that will guide the way the team operates, there should be a document that defines responsibilities, expectations for how the team will function together to enhance their self-organization.

Something that creates an awareness of both positive and negative behaviors that can impact the team. That thing is called THE TEAM WORKING AGREEMENT. For the sake of definition, a Team Working Agreement an informal agreement between the agile/scrum team to perform activities or to abide by certain guidelines or set of acceptable behaviors.

HOW to develop a Team Working Agreement

Unlike the way it was in BIG BANG THEORY, The Team Agreement is jointly developed by the team.

The process of defining the Team’s working agreement is straightforward. The Business Analyst facilitates a session with the Project Manager and the team, where they generate a number of team disciplines together. A working agreement should be recalled easily, so they will then vote on the top five to ten disciplines. Once the Team has agreed upon a set of disciplines, they should be posted in their designated area and/or stored in a virtual folder that is accessible to all members.

Specifically, let me run you through how I worked with a team to come up with a Team Agreement. The first meeting I had with this new team, I gathered the team together in a room, explained the concept of team agreement (some of them understood the concept from GROUND RULES), but I was careful not to use the word GROUND RULES, because typically, Ground Rules are set by an individual and imposed on the team. This was a pretty new team. New to one another, new to the product we were building, new to the project. I also helped structure the session such that everybody had something to write.

At the end of the silent writing section, each team member had written at least 4 points on post-it notes that would form the team agreement. We then collected all the points written by the team, put them on a BACKLOG, and started discussing them one after the other. We had some that the team didn’t collectively agree on, while some that everybody agreed to. At the end of the session, we came up with five points that would become the TEAM AGREEMENT. I will try to explain them in the following sections.

Thankfully, we had someone who could really draw in the group. So, we used a large piece of cardboard to write the TEAM AGREEMENT and pasted it on the walls of the Team Room and the Team Lab (where the team holds sessions, reviews etc.)

At the team became mature, we gathered again to review and refine the team agreement collectively. So, what did we come up with as the Team Agreement? I was getting into that. Check them below.


BE NICE: Everybody on the team will be nice to one another, will help one another, will be kind and considerate to one another. Everyone will respect one another, no one will shout another down. Generally, everybody on the team will be nice to everybody on the team

BE PROMPT; Projects run on few meetings and schedules. For the team to really be high-performing and productive, we need to start our ceremonies on time, finish them on time, and that wouldn’t be possible if team members are not prompt. Daily Stand Up starts at 10:00 AM on the DOT, and hence, everyone must be around to start by 10 am.

BE PROACTIVE: This took some clarification for the team to fully agree. It means that everyone in the team should be more responsive and proactive about issues and everything that concerns the product, the task, the approach, the stakeholder etc.

BE AVAILABLE: You know you can be in a meeting and not be available mentally. You can be in a meeting and be engaged in something else like using your phone or computer. So, the team agreed that to be more productive, everyone must be available physically, mentally and psychologically. No one should engage in another activity apart from the activity the team is currently on.

BE BOLD: Scrum runs on empiricism, which loosely means experimenting. And in other to make any meaningful discovery and improve the way we work and the products we deliver as a team, we need to be bold and fearless. We need to be able to explore and experiment with new methods or approach

Why must you have a Team Agreement?

The saying goes “Where there is no Law, There is no SIN”. Recall, the Team Agreement is not a LAW or Set of Rules, just an understanding of the acceptable behaviors within an association or a team. Below are the few reasons why every team must have a team Agreement

  1. Team Agreements help eliminate (if at all possible) frictions among teammates. Ok, scratch that. Team Agreements help reduce friction among teammates. The agreement gives all members of the team a template for what is expected during their day-to-day work.
  2. Team Agreements, when well done, help even the most controversial of teams come together to produce great results.
  3. Team Agreements help to onboard new team members easily and smoothly…..

So, in summary, if you have a team that is not productive or not healthy, you may want to consider TEAM AGREEMENT.

Few closing tips to take away from this article:

  1. Never start a team on a project, assignment, task without a TEAM AGREEMENT. If you already started one, NEVER continue without a TEAM AGREEMENT. Stop right now and develop a TEAM AGREEMENT
  2. Involve everybody on the team in the development of the TEAM AGREEMENT
  3. Ensure everybody on the team agrees to the TEAM AGREEMENT, and if required, have them all sign it.
  4. Do not make the TEAM AGREEMENT too long or one-sided
  5. Make the TEAM AGREEMENT visible. Paste it on every wall the Team uses.
  6. Continually review and update the TEAM AGREEMENT.

Wish you a productive and high-performing TEAM.