apart; they were going through a normal stage.
But if she didn't do something to help the team to the next stage, Jenny worried they might stay stuck in this stormy stage. And with the release date looming, she needed to nudge them into high performance.
At the next team meeting, Jenny shared her observations and what she'd learned about team formation with the group.
"I think we need to agree on what we expect from each other and how we're going to do things," Hal offered.
"That's a good idea, Hal. That fits in with what we've just learned about team development," Jenny said. "I learned an exercise for developing working agreements. Are you willing to try it?"
Joe, Susan, Jason, and Sara nodded. Jim wasn't so sure, but reluctantly agreed to try.
"First, let me explain what a working agreement is," Jenny said. "It's like a social contract: we all agree on how we'll work together, and then we're all responsible for holding each other to the agreement. I know you all want this release to succeed. Working agreements will assist us in our interaction and help us work together productively."
Jenny helped the group develop possible working agreements.
At the end of their working time, they had ten possible working agreements posted on the white board.
"Ten seems like a lot of rules to keep track of," Sara said.
"I agree," Jenny responded. "Let's identify five to seven rules that are most important to us. We can vote by each putting check-marks next to the ones we think are most vital to a productive working relationship. Each person gets three votes. You can put all your votes on one working agreement or vote for three different ones."
By the end of the meeting, the team had settled on these five agreements:
- Arrive at meetings on time and prepared.
- Ask for help when you are stuck on a task for more than two hours.
- Whoever breaks the build fixes the build.
- Seek to understand before jumping to judgment.
- One conversation at a time in team meetings.
In the next weeks, the team consciously attempted to live up to their agreements. After three weeks, they realized that they needed to add a new agreement: Team core hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Jenny's team continued to refine their agreements. They still have frictions (as all humans do), but when that happens, they remind each other that they are all committed to shipping the release and find a way to work through the conflict. They feel pride in their work and pride in their work as a team.
Working agreements won't solve all team problems, but can help teams create a framework for negotiating how they will work together and discussing issues when they come up. That framework can make the difference between a productive team and one stuck in a stormy stage.