Kick-Off Your Agile Team With A Working Agreement Workshop
For a new team, creating a team working agreement canvas collaboratively is a great exercise to help forge a team identity and is crucial for success.
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The canvas, created by Avi Schneier and the Scrum Inc team , encourages the team to ask questions that go to the heart of team dynamics, from the norms and guidelines they agree to abide by, to the skills they bring to the table and the skills they want to learn from each other, to how they celebrate success and learn from failure. In this article, I will discuss how I adapted Avi’s original canvas to the needs of the teams I was coaching, elaborate on the different elements of a working agreement, and share with you a step-by-step guide to facilitating collaborative working agreement development workshops.
The 8 Canvas Blocks In a Glance:
Team Name and Motto:
Having a team name that all team members can identify with is one aspect of establishing the team’s unique identity. A Team name should be created (and agreed on) by the team on their own. There are many anecdotal accounts about how coming together under a common team name helps the team run much more smoothly and efficiently (Plus, it’s fun to come up with a great team name together!) In a recent working agreement canvas workshop I facilitated, and since there were so many Harry Potter fans in the group, they chose to be called Team Slytherin. You should’ve heard the laughs as they attempted to come up with that name!
The Motto is the team’s catch-phrase. Some teams opt for something that captures in a few words what they consider the essence of good teamwork, while others prefer something more tongue-in-cheek. I love to observe the dynamic of a team and how they learn more about each other’s personalities as they try to come up with a motto.
The working agreement canvas allows the team, in one sentence, to declare to the world why this team exists. This allows team members to deeply examine their own (and others’) perspectives about why we’re here embarking on this large undertaking.
Developing a team mission together provides a wonderful insight into how every team member has internalized all the conversations and information presented and discussed as part of team initiation/inception/sprint 0 etc.
Strengths and Skills:
Having a broad understanding of the skill sets (business, technology, tools, soft skills, etc.) available within the team has many benefits, including:
- It enables the team to take advantage of its members’ unique skills beyond their job titles (a back-end developer may not just do back-end development – she might have a decent experience in test automation as well, for example, gained from previous projects or from a past career. Imagine how useful it will be to know this at the outset of the project)
- It shows the team if there’s a shortage in a specific skill, enabling the team (and leadership) to address that problem quickly
- Seeing the breadth of knowledge and skill available in the team encourages team members to want to develop broad, T-shaped skills by learning from their colleagues. Have you always wanted to learn a particular tool or technology, for example, but always felt like you did not have the time? How lucky it is then that one of your new team members is an expert in that technology!
- Also, I invariably find new teams surprised by the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience within the group. This goes a long way in helping members of a new team develop a sense of respect and appreciation towards each other, and also in instilling a sense of pride in being a part of the team.
Gaps and Growth Opportunities:
How will we become more cross-functional as a team and more T-shaped as individuals? The previous block has provided us with important insight into the knowledge and expertise within the team, and the next step is to figure out what to do with that insight. For example, are there any specific skills that we need that are simply not available in the team? what are we going to do about that? What are our individual goals in regard to building a more T-shaped skillset?
Celebrate and Improve:
This block has two main themes: how we celebrate success & how we learn from failure. Both are important in order to build a high-performing team. People almost intuitively grasp the importance of learning from failures/mistakes, but the benefits of celebrating success are often overlooked. Nothing  encourages a collaborative work environment like celebrating wins as a team and sharing in each other’s success.
In this block of the Team working agreement canvas, the team discuss and agree on how they plan to learn from failure and celebrate success (e.g. how & when they are going to reflect on errors and mistakes, how are they going to translate what they have learned from past failures into actions, what success means to this team – as individuals and as a collective – and how they plan to celebrate it, etc.)
Norms and Guidelines:
This is where we discuss and collectively agree on our ground rules: the code of conduct that describes the kind of work culture we want for our team. We approach this by describing how we should (and should not) behave as we engage in the various aspects of teamwork: from how we run our meetings and events, to how we resolve conflicts, divide the workload, collaborate, communicate, provide feedback, etc. The goal is to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions without fear.
How long should our Sprints be? At what day and time should we hold our Sprint Planning, Backlog Refinement, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective & Daily Scrum meetings? Where should these meetings be held (team room? Large conference room? Etc.) Which attendees should attend which meetings/ceremonies (consult the stakeholder map here)? Etc.
Don’t try too hard to come up with a perfect team working agreement canvas. The working agreement canvas, like everything else in the context of an Agile team, evolves as we learn more. The longer we work together, the more we will learn about one another and about what improves (or hinders) our working dynamic as a team. Some of what we put in the working agreement canvas now will be woefully irrelevant in a few weeks or months, while new, emerging things (new additions to the norms and guidelines, for example) will demand attention and naturally find themselves on the working agreement canvas. This is good. It shows that we are indeed learning, evolving, and constantly getting better.
Working Agreement Workshop - Facilitation Guide (1-hour workshop):
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