How to make team agreements stick

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 29th September 2020

A member of my team was having a conversation with a client recently about our Smart Teams program. They were keen to look at ways to create a more productive email culture but were hesitant because they had tried to embed a set of email protocols in the past, but nothing had changed. Their concern was that nothing would change this time either.

Changing cultures is hard, especially around something like email usage, as most people have a set of email habits that are very much baked on and hard to shift. I have seen many teams that have tried to shift their email culture create a short-term change, and then slip back to old patterns and behaviours.

Most of these change initiatives revolve around a set of working protocols. This could be called a charter, a rule book or a working contract. We call them team agreements in our Smart Teams program. Having a set of agreed behaviours around how we will work makes a lot of sense, as it helps us all to understand the expectations of the team and helps us to hold ourselves and each other accountable. The challenge is getting the team to buy in to these agreements, and to sustain the change in behaviour. 

Some of the mistakes I have seen teams make in this regard are:

  • Leadership rubber-stamp the initiative but fail to make the time to lead and inspire the wider team to make the required changes
  • Management creates a set of rules and then simply emails these to staff, expecting a cultural change to follow
  • The team tries to implement too many agreements at once
  • Different teams create different sets of agreements, creating confusion
  • There is a belief that the culture will change overnight

My experience with creating and sustaining more productive cultures is that it takes time, effort, commitment, and passionate leadership. But if the will is there, and enough people see the benefits of changing, then it is very possible to create a far more productive culture based upon a simple but powerful set of team agreements.  

When I have seen teams successfully change their productivity culture, they have generally committed to at least a 3-month project to shift the behaviours of everyone involved. They often appoint a team of internal champions to create the agreements and to help embed them and coach behaviours. Leadership is involved with the project, and attend training along with everyone else to ensure they have the right skills and strategies in place to bring the agreements to life. 

So, if your team is struggling with a noisy email culture, an ineffective meeting culture, a disjointed collaboration culture or a reactive urgency culture, have a think about whether it would be worth creating a set of team agreements to create a more productive culture. But if you are going to do this, ‘go all in and commit fully’ as my friend Pete Cook always says.

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