How to Create Explicit and Clear Agreements for Your Team

Jonah Larkin

Working within a team or organization can be a challenge when people have different perspectives and assumptions. This can create conflicts and hinder progress. Creating "explicit agreements" can help mitigate these issues, ensure a smoother workflow and avoid conflict.

The Importance of Agreements

People tend to make assumptions, and this is where conflict arises. By creating agreements, you ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what is expected of them. Agreements work by someone making a proposal and then asking for agreement. If someone cannot or will not agree, you can either adjust the agreement or perhaps the person is not a good fit for your organization.

Make agreements explicit

Agreements should adhere to the following basic principles:

  1. Any agreement needs to be agreed to by everyone involved.
  2. It needs to be precisely defined.
  3. It should be written down.
  4. It should be clear enough that there is no room for misunderstanding.

Abiding by Agreements

It's okay for an employee to not make an agreement that they are unable to keep. What is not okay is for someone to agree to something and then not abide by that agreement. If someone cannot abide by the agreement, here's what you should do:

  • Find out what happened that they didn't follow through on the agreement
  • Have them choose a habit (and write it down) that will help them stick to the agreement in the future.
  • Make sure to document their failure to abide by the agreement
  • Have the person acknowledge the agreement explicitly in front of others and the group as a whole.
  • If they continue to not abide by specific agreements, make the consequences clear.

Explicit Agreements

There should be explicit agreements around the following:

  • When is it appropriate to use synchronous communications like phone or video chat? What hours do you expect people to be available? Are there specific exceptions to the general rule (like during a big project or sprint)?
  • Asynchronous communication should be used as much as possible. Define clearly what channels are to be used for what items. For instance, Slack for general work and coordination, and if you use Asana, Notion, or other project software, conversations about specifics (like supplier or vendor information) should take place on the management software. Slack should be used for more general conversations.

Communications Policy

To move forward, create a list of all the types of communication that exist at your company. For instance, email, slack, notion, text, phone etc. Next, write down proposed agreements on a document around each of those methods of communication and share it with each member of the team. This can be done asynchronously.

After everyone has had time to review the agreements and comment, have a meeting to discuss and work out any kinks.

Do not use the word “rules,” for an agreement. An agreement is optional to make. A rule is not. It’s always important for people to understand this. What is not optional is not abiding by agreements.

Encourage people to propose updates or modifications to the agreements to make communication even more effective.

Post the communication policy in places where people will see it often. When you find an agreement is no longer working for any reason, then it is time to update it.