Whenever you have a team of people working together, there will, inevitably, be challenges. As human beings, we are often challenged with our own thoughts, stories and beliefs. Now add the thoughts, stories and beliefs of a handful or more other humans and you’ll inevitably be faced with conflict.
An email missed, a passing remark or even a simple look may cause a team member to dwell on what it meant for hours or even days. All of us do or say things that seem completely innocent or inconsequential, but may cause unknown challenges, conflict and pain for others. All this unspoken tension gets in the way of team members being able to move fast, innovate and deliver a higher level of productivity.
That’s why it’s essential to establish team agreements with your employees. Team agreements set the ground rules for working with each other, what’s okay and not okay to say or do and how you can best communicate together.
Get everyone on the same page.
One of the very first things I put in place when building our team was establishing a set of values that we, as a team, stand for and are aligned on. These aren’t just words to put up on an office wall or in a company manifesto. These values are specific and actionable, allowing team members to use them as filters for how we work with each other, what we can expect of one another and even of our clients and prospects. They are the ground rules by which we, as a collection of people, have agreed to work with each other.
For example, one of our values at my company is “do the next hard thing.” It’s not just a phrase we use with one another to challenge ourselves; it specifically means that, as individuals, we are expected to do work that gets us out of our comfort zone, to take risks, to make mistakes and to learn from them. It may sound like common sense that doesn’t need to be said, but, by establishing this as one of our values, it accomplishes a couple of important things:
1. It gives the green light to our team to take chances and risks, without fear of retribution.
By stating this, we are agreeing that we want to take risks, to be innovative and to try new methods or technologies for the sake of getting better. We understand the consequences, that mistakes may be made along the way and we are okay with that.
2. It lets the team know that mistakes are OK and provide a learning experience.
3. It gives the leader of the team a clear set of expectations for behavior that each employee has agreed to. When one team member is not living up to these expectations, we have the values that serve as a common language to hold that employee accountable for their actions.
Adjust to changes.
Team agreements are not static things. They need to be re-evaluated any time there is a major change to the team, within the company or the business environment as a whole.
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world during 2020 resulted in many workplaces moving to remote work. The old agreements we established may not be relevant now. We need to reassess our ground rules for remote work, taking into consideration challenges such as child care, partner’s schedules, internet availability, etc.
Though I don’t have children, many of my other team members do and they now have to contend with homeschooling, the management of multiple schedules, lack of uninterrupted time, lack of a quiet space — all while still being expected to produce as if they were in the office. If I schedule a client meeting during a time when my team member has sole responsibility for their children, I’m probably not going to get them at their best. This is only one example of why it’s critical to reassess your agreements, make sure you establish clear boundaries for when it’s acceptable to communicate and expect someone to be online. Just because you are working remotely doesn’t mean everyone should be “on” 24/7.
Without team agreements, we allow space for unnecessary stories, conflicts and challenges that arise when we aren’t clear on how to best work together. As a leader, it’s up to you to set the tone and processes for eliminating this confusion. Create an environment where productivity and innovation starts with you.
Originally published in Forbes on June 10, 2020.