Creating Effective Working Agreements: A Comprehensive Guide for New Scrum Masters

In the fast-paced realm of product development, the crux of success often lies in understanding how to navigate a team effectively. You might be surprised to realise that this doesn’t always necessitate a top-down, authoritative approach. Rather, it can be achieved successfully via working agreements or as some call them, team contracts. This is where effective communication, mutual understanding, and shared expectations come together.

Working agreements provide a ‘north star’ for your team, anchoring everyone towards the same objective through a shared understanding of the rules of engagement.

– John McFadyen

We understand that forming working agreements may sound challenging, especially if you are a new scrum master. No worries, in this article we bring to you, fine-tuned tips and step-by-step guidelines on how to create effective working agreements with a team. And that too, with a generous serving of personable advice and practical examples. So, there’s no need to fret! Roll up your sleeves, muster up your courage, and dive right in!

Cracking the Code: Components of an Effective Working Agreement

Working agreements, at their core, consist of a set of guidelines collaboratively established by the team to define how they would like to work together. It’s about putting together an agreement, in black and white, that illustrates key aspects like communication practices, meeting norms, decision-making process, tools to be used, and expectations of each other. The magic of these rules lies in their mutual creation, ensuring everyone has a stake in adhering to it.

Communication Practices: The foundation of any successful team lies in open and efficient communication. Detail how, when, and where communication will take place within the team. This could include deciding the tools to be used for communication, frequency of communication and setting up protocols for day-to-day or urgent communication.

Meeting Norms: It’s not just about having meetings; it’s about making them efficient and productive. A working agreement should specify the frequency of meetings, their duration, the requirement of agendas, norms for participation, and rules for decision-making during these meetings.

Decision-Making Process: Clarity in decision-making goes a long way in streamlining work processes and reducing conflicts. Define who makes what decision, when, and how. This could be as simple as majority wins or more complex like consensus-based decisions, depending on your team dynamics.

Tools to Be Used: Digital tools are vital in most work settings today. Discuss and agree on the tools to be used for different tasks, from communication to work management. This brings uniformity and avoids confusion.

Expectations: This includes the roles and responsibilities of each team member, hours of work, deadlines, and how to handle disagreements. This sets clear expectations and reduces miscommunication.

In essence, your working agreement is the buoy that keeps your team afloat amidst the turbulent tides of the workplace. It maintains order, instills understanding, and fosters a strong team spirit.

The Art of Crafting Working Agreements: A Step-by-step Guide

First and foremost, fostering open dialogue amongst your team is crucial for crafting an effective working agreement. The process should be democratic and inclusive to make sure everyone’s perspectives are heard and respected.

Here’s a simple, 4-step outline to kick off the process.

  1. Initiate the process: With your team together, preferably in a casual and non-threatening environment, introduce the concept of a working agreement. Highlight the benefits it brings such as increased efficiency and improved collaboration.
  2. Brainstorm collaboratively: Next, encourage each team member to share their thoughts on what should be in the agreement. The topics could vary from work hours and conflict resolution to decision making and communication norms. A versatile online platform, like Miro or Trello, can be used to streamline this process.
  3. Refine and consolidate: Once everyone has shared their bit, you can group similar ideas together and refine them collectively. This may involve resolving disagreements and discussing trade-offs, but it’s an important step in the process.
  4. Finalise and commit: With an agreement fleshed out, now is the time for the team to commit to it. You may want to document it in a shared digital space, or print it out and put it somewhere in the office where everyone can see it. It’s crucial, however, that everyone feels comfortable and aligned with it first.

Remember, a working agreement isn’t a fixed contract – it’s more like a set of guidelines. To make it truly effective, it should be dynamic and open to revisions as your team evolves and learns.

Top Tips for New Scrum Masters to Effectively Utilise Working Agreements

Transitioning to a scrum master role can initially seem daunting, so here are three key tips to make the most of working agreements:

  1. Highlight the benefits: Help the team understand the value of the working agreement. By outlining the benefits such as improved communication, clearer expectations, and stronger team cohesion, you’re likely to gain more buy-in from team members.
  2. Be inclusive: Don’t just dictate what the working agreement contains – involve everyone in its creation. This not only builds alignment and fosters a sense of ownership, but also enriches the agreement with diverse perspectives.
  3. Guide, don’t author: Your role as a scrum master is to facilitate the conversation, not to write the agreement yourself. Encourage the team to openly discuss and decide on the norms they wish to establish.
  4. Show flexibility: Remember that the point of a working agreement is to boost productivity, not to restrict the team. If certain elements clearly aren’t working, be open to re-evaluating and updating them.
  5. Keep it concise: Avoid creating a lengthy document that gets overlooked or forgotten. Strive for brevity and clarity – the agreement should be easily understood and remembered by everyone.
  6. Review regularly: Habituated routines might necessitate adaptations to the working agreement. Make sure to schedule regular reviews of the agreement to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness.

Serving as a constant reminder of your team’s shared values and practices, an effective working agreement becomes instrumental in driving a high-performing, harmonious team environment.

The Significance of Working Agreements

In conclusion, the cornerstone of your team’s success is the creation of robust, tailored working agreements. These serve as a roadmap, guiding your team’s dynamics and easing potential friction points. As we’ve explored, these agreements contain essential components that reflect your team’s shared values and working practices.

By following the step-by-step guide, you can seamlessly craft these agreements with your team. Remember, an inclusive, trusting environment is key in this process. The onus now falls on you, especially if you’re a new Scrum Master, to harness the power of this tool efficiently. Our top tips will undoubtedly assist you in your endeavour to effectively employ working agreements.

Having got to grips with creating effective working agreements, it’s imperative to understand their role as your team evolves. In our next article, we’ll delve into how to maintain your working agreements as the team matures.

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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