Creating Team Working Agreements
How to improve teamwork and deliver better products? Let’s work it out in Figma’s FigJam!
Does your team have Working Agreements or any other rules of play? How do you make sure you are all on the same page when it comes to processes and tools? Who has a say in what time the team will have the Daily meeting, and how do they do the Retrospective?
Today I will explain not only what are the agreements for what and why your team should have them but also how to collaboratively create them. I will share a template I prepared in a digital whiteboard, FigJam. Then I will show you how to move them to Confluence where the them can keep iterating on them. And lastly, I will show give you two testimonials from my Engineering Managers Interviews Series about using the team agreements in practice.
Jana Reichel, a Team Lead, will explain how her team at AroundHome updates the agreements after each retro and how she reminds the team about them. And Miguel Angel Gomez, an Engineering Manager at Bumble will explain how he collaboratively created the agreements with his newly created team.
Agreements lead to a solid strategy, to an excellent execution and to a positive delivery of value for the customer, whether internal and/or external. Agreement on what to do makes all the difference.
Let’s see how it’s done!
Working Agreements is a list of points the team agrees upon when it comes to the collaboration, the processes they will follow, the tools they will use, etc. To explain what it looks like in practice, you can see the FigJam template below. I divide the agreements into different categories to facilitate the branstorming session with the team.
How to create Working Agreements?
I like to use the opportunity to create such agreements and make it into a team-building exercise where we collaboratively brainstorm the points.
For that, if in remote, I like to use a digital whiteboard, and this time I used FigJam. Not sure if you know that if your company has a Figma license it has also FigJam access. FigJam is very similar in functionality to Miro or Mural and you can open a board for 24h collaboration session with the whole team. They will get access even if none of them has a Figma license. Very handy for such workshops.
The idea here is very similar to a retrospective exercise. Everyone takes a postit and writes agreements for each category:
- what agreements we already follow and should continue to follow
- what processes are not clear and should get clarified
- what new agreements we should create that could help us
Update and maintain your Team Agreements
Although FigJam and any other digital whiteboard tools are great for collaboration, good old Confluence keeps being my choice for hosting any team documentation.
Once you agree on the entry points, I write “entry” because these kind of agreements will keep on evolving. New points will be added, other removed, some modified, etc. And that’s the point of this kind of documentation. If we create it and keep it the same or never look at it again, we can easily just delete it.
So once you have something — move it to Confluence or wherever you keep your docs and keep updating it. I really like the way Jana and her team do it. Have the agreements present at any retrospective and when you see there is a valid improvement point raised by the team — add it to the doc. A perfect way to keep everything in one place.
Work Agreements in Practice
I used to work on the working agreements with every team I had worked with. However, after a while of not working closely with the development teams, I forgot about them. And recently I started working on the Team Agreements with the teams in my organization because I got inspired by Jana Reichel, the Team Lead from my Engineering Manager Podcast.
Jana reminded me about the value and the function of those agreements for the team’s collaboration. Let’s see what she has to say about them:
I think it is normal to go out of a retrospective and just update your team agreements and not have super-specific action items.
This Jana’s quote reminded me the power of team agreements.
What’s more, you can use the agreements as a way to provide less direct feedback to the team. You don’t need to give personal feedback to anyone, you can just fall back on the agreements and say something like “Hey, on the last retro we agreed we will use this new tool for estimation and we added it to our working agreements”.
Miguel Angel Gomez explains how he started a new team. The basic things a group of people needs to agree upon to start creating the feeling of a team. One of those foundational practices is creating Working Agreements that will evolute over time. Miguel reminds us that especially for a new team, we can treat them as experiments we want to do with the team and in case they don’t work, we iterate and change them:
Speeding up the new team members onboarding
Another great use for the working agreements is that they help speed up the onboarding of new team members. The new joiners can quickly familiarize themselves with any working habits, collaboration practices, and the culture of the team they are joining.
Do you have Working Agreements in your team? You probably do, the question is are they transparent and available for everyone to read? I hope this article will help your team get into a habit of reviewing your ways of working and documenting it, so everyone is on the same page. This way the team is better suited to create delightful products.