Every team faces moments of uncertainty. Getting teams on the same page is the greatest challenge teams face when navigating difficult situations. The Team Agreement is critical as it grounds the working group with clear expectations, understandings, and norms for how they will work together as a team.

When the Mayflower’s anchor was set down near the hook of Cape Cod in 1620, its passengers found themselves amidst a cloud of uncertainty. Rations were low, sickness and disease had become all too common, and storms had battered the ship’s keel over the course of their 2-month voyage. The storms had sent them off course from their planned destination, Virginia Company Territory, where they would have assumed governance under colonial laws. Now a far 250 miles north in Plymouth Harbor, the Puritan settlers, famished, exhausted, and anxious to disembark, find food and make shelter, buoyed before a new and vastly different land where the laws of the Mother Country no longer applied.

No laws, no order

The Pilgrims had landed in unchartered territory. There were no laws under which they would be governed as they had landed outside of Virginia Colony. This absence of law elevated  the risk potential for chaos, rebellion, and ultimately threatened the survivability of the Pilgrim settlers.

An every-man-for-himself situation loomed unless some keen intervention was established. The solution was delivered in the form of an agreement among all of the men aboard the Mayflower – The Mayflower Compact. This contract, brief and concise, outlined and broadly established the terms by which the people of the Mayflower would govern themselves.

Too many businesses are operating in unchartered territory. Much like the Mayflower passengers, 21st century work teams often find themselves navigating a similar cloud of operational uncertainty – lack of alignment with management’s expectations, negative workplace culture, difficulty holding pace with advancing technology, and a host of other challenges that make up today’s VUCA business landscape.

Team Agreement – Short, simple, and to the point

As described by History.com:

  • The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that:
  • The colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • The colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • The colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • The colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

Notice, the Pilgrims did not go about extensive strategy planning. Their plan did not outline hierarchy. There’s no mention of  titles, roles, or budgets. It was a simple agreement – a team agreement – that would provide a basic understanding of how they would operate together as a team. This contract would guide their decision-making through their first winter, a treacherous, stormy season, tense relations with native peoples, and the general challenges of establishing a sustainable settlement in the New World.

Similarly, the Team Agreement, alternatively known as a Working Agreement, or Team Contract, sets clear expectations for how a team will function. It is a principle-based, behavior-oriented document that outlines the fundamental terms by which a team will operate.

Per Payton Consulting, the Working Agreement is set forth for positivity and productivity.

Working agreements, also known as team norms, are guidelines developed by the teams as to how they must work together to create a positive, productive process.

The working agreement is a tool widely used by Agile teams as a foundation for collaboration and cooperation within the team. It serves as the basis for generating a sense of unity and fostering an environment of trust and safety. It is a handshake agreement that sets the tone for work to be done collaboratively, cooperatively and in a positive work environment.

Every team needs Pilgrim-like trust to be successful

Our Pilgrim friends set out to establish trust in order to get work done; work that would enable them to survive their short term challenges and ultimately produce a thriving community. They avoided chaos and rebellion by pausing for a brief moment to write and sign a Team Agreement, The Mayflower Compact, a social contract.

Does your team have a Working Agreement?  Does your team operate in an environment where trust and psychological safety are the bedrock for getting to “Done” and delivering value to your customers?

Part 2 will explore how to create a Team Working Agreement.

** Image Credit: Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)