28 July 2020

Use Agreement Setting to Maximise Your Team's Potential

Product leaders trying to empower their teams have a hard time. Product managers lack formal authority within their teams, they need to persuade and massage their teams to get to the outcomes they need. Even for CEOs, CPOs, and CTOs with formal authority, it is far more effective to empower teams to organize themselves in pursuit of their goals than it is to command and control.

One of the best techniques I have found to bring together a team with a shared sense of purpose, vision, and responsibility, and to develop empathy amongst team members is a collaboration agreement setting.

In just 45 minutes you can bring a team together, define how you will work together, and set a solid culture that will be a bedrock for success.

How to do agreement setting sessions

If you are hosting the session, check out this check-list before you get started:

🤗What works well:

  • All participants are open-minded.
  • Everyone participates. Just like a brainstorm, there are no observers.
  • Everyone is honest. Unlike a brainstorm, its OK to stop and discuss points that you don’t agree on, because getting to an agreement is the goal.
  • Formal and informal status and roles are checked at the door. Everyone truly believes that they are equals.
  • The full team is present. If you team size changes in the future, you may need to re-run the agreement setting.

😩What doesn’t work:

  • Participants are unwilling to see things from other peoples’ perspectives.
  • Not everyone contributes. Look out for people sitting in the corner or simply saying its OK, I’ll go with what you think. If you are the moderator, try and pull in and engage these people.
  • Everyone waits for the boss or the most senior person to go first. True leaders eat last.
  • No or poor follow-ups. The agreement is just the beginning. Now the team needs to uphold it and live by it.

Ask these 11 questions to build your agreement

Using a Google Doc, Miro Board, Notion or another collaborative page, work through these 11 questions. Brain-writing and heads-down brainstorms can be great. But agreement setting works best when the team can interact.

If you are the moderator, try to be on the lookout for cues that a team member may not be comfortable or maybe holding back. You can always invite them to do a second pass of the document after the session.

  1. What would the dream/success look like for us working together?
  2. What would the nightmare/ worst-case scenario look like?
  3. What’s the best way for us to work together to achieve the dream?
  4. What do we need to be mindful of to avoid the nightmare?
  5. What attitudes do you and I want to bring to this conversation?
  6. What permissions do you and I want?
  7. What assumptions do you and I have?
  8. What will we do when things get hard?
  9. What is working/ not working today?
  10. What do we need to change to make the relationship more productive/ positive?
  11. How can we both take responsibility for making this work?

Your agreement is your living constitution

Now you have your agreement, use it as a constitution. I have found agreements are super useful when:

  • Things get tough on the team, if there are interpersonal issues or when the whole team is under pressure.
  • Planning team-building and social events.
  • When discussing your personal development objectives with your manager.
  • If you are a line-manager when working with your teams to set personal development objectives.

This is a living document - so you can change your minds, you can reference the agreement, you can amend it and change it.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on@

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