Create Team Agreements

Team agreements allow members to specify how they will work and interact with each other. Ad-hoc or gradually-formed agreements don’t necessarily cover the required topic areas. Often, they are not examined critically and are only tacitly agreed to. Better to create agreements deliberately when the team forms and review/revise using AnswersFromExperiments.

Pain Points

  • Team members don’t trust each other
  • Finger pointing and excuses occur when bad things happen
  • Interpersonal problems fester instead of getting resolved
  • When team members finish a task they don’t know what to work on next
  • Team members get into “religious wars” over how to implement a feature
  • Decisions are made by the loudest voice


  • Individuals understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Assumptions are made explicit, leading to shared vision and integrated goals
  • The team knows how to make decisions, and makes them
  • Team members know what they’re working on, and how it aligns with corporate goals
  • Clear processes exist around how to do the work
  • Team alignment leads to disciplined execution


  • Team members AgreeToTry and follow their agreements (Significant Boost)
  • Team agreements cover the necessary acts/interactions (Significant Boost) (see below)
  • The team reviews their agreements during ContinuousReview and updates their agreements as appropriate (Boost)
  • The team’s agreements are signed by team members and posted(Boost)
  • Leaders and managers support the team’s agreements (Boost)
  • Team agreements are talked about but not specified (Setback)
  • Team agreements get created at the team’s start, but never reviewed or updated (Setback)
  • Team agreements list superficial items ignoring essential but difficult topics (Significant Setback)
  • Team members create agreements, but never refer to or enforce them (Disaster)
  • Team members create agreements, and managers over-ride the team and tell them the “right way” (Double Disaster)


✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental

Adoption Experiment

Steps to first adopt this habit:


After a team forms using SmallStableTeams the team needs to agree how to work together.

  1. Get supplies or the virtual equivalents. You’ll need:
    • Flip chart paper, at least three pages
    • Post-its for team members to write on
    • Sharpies to write with
  2. Schedule time for the team to meet. Allow at least 1.5 hours. Don has seen these take as long as 3 hours


With the team gathered:

  1. Label a sheet “How can we make our team fail?” Individually, the team members list all the work habits, decisions, and behaviors that will cause the team to suffer and fail. When finished, team members share their post-its and post items on the flip chart.
  2. Label a sheet “Close to the Truth.” Ask “What items on previous sheet are close to current behavior?” or “Which of these are we likely to encounter as a team?” Move those stickies to this sheet.
  3. Label a sheet “We Work Together Best When.” Have participants lead the creation of agreements, habits, meetings, and behaviors that will help the team succeed. Think about how you can work together and behave to prevent the items on the second flip chart from happening.
  4. Have the team formalize their agreements by signing the “We Work Together Best When” flip chart.

Evaluate Feedback

  1. Monitor the team’s behavior. Do they operate according to their agreements? If not, does the team self correct?
  2. As time goes by, does the team revisit their agreements to see which have become habits and can be removed from the list? Have other behavior issues come up that need to be added?

What Does it Look like?

Social systems, however, can be organized either by default or by design. In default, the beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that underlie the system go unexamined. In design, the beliefs, assumptions, and expectations are made explicit, being constantly examined and monitored.—Jamshid Gharajedaghi

Team foundations get created using SmallStableTeams. Now the team members need to determine how they will interact, make decisions, and work together.

Team agreements enable the team to create the environment needed to be successful. The team should create their agreements when they form and understand how their work ties into the Vision. Proper facilitation helps as the team works building their agreements. Ideally the facilitator has experience with teams, and is not the team manager. Even when managers are aware and try not to influence the team, their presence will probably influence the new team’s behavior.

Team agreements allow members to explicitly state how they will work together. The results of the Adoption Experiment might look like this:


Team agreements take several forms. Here are some examples:

  • Ground rules — expected behavior for specific situations
    • Team check in: 10:30-10:45
    • Send status if you can’t be there
    • Update task status prior to standup
    • Limit the amount of time stuck before asking for help. See TimeBox
  • Team norms — agreed upon behavior
    • Share decisions with those not there
    • One person talks at a time
    • Trunk-based development, no long-running branches
  • Working agreements — protocols to forge commitment helping the team meet their goal
    • Vote by Roman thumbs
    • Common Terminology

Rather than attempt to list every possible item for an agreement, pick 4-6 of the agreements most important to the team. Then AgreeToTry. As time goes by, some agreements will become habit, and some might not be as important as originally thought.

Every team agreement will vary from other team agreements, even when the teams exist in the same company and may work on the same project.

Warning Signs

  • The team generates a list of 20+ agreements
  • A team member assumes the role of “Agreements monitor”
  • The team does not follow their agreements
  • The team never reviews and updates their agreements

How To Fail Spectacularly

  • The manager creates the team agreements
  • The team does not explicitly create agreements
  • The team spends all their time creating, revising and arguing over agreements instead of getting any work done

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