How to Sustain Focus on Working Agreements

Previously, this series addressed two ideas regarding Working Agreements – how to establish them and how to breathe life into existing ones. This article will focus on maintaining and sustaining the intended power of Working Agreements.

As stated earlier, Working Agreements will stick ONLY if the group commits to practice them over time. This is the hallmark characteristic of high-performing teams – that they function from a deep understanding of the value and need for Working Agreements to which they hold themselves accountable. When Working Agreements are violated, the team addresses the violation. So, how does a team perform this critical step without alienating or pushing away team members? Here are a few options for “checking up” on your Working Agreements:

  • Begin and end each meeting with a focus on the Working Agreements, especially when they are new. Initially, it is important to talk about each statement and its intent. Each team member can take a statement – name it, explain its meaning for the team, and even monitor for it during the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, each person reports on the team’s use of the Agreement for which they were responsible.  This is repeated until the Agreements are internalized.
  • Reminder of the posted Agreements (as time allows) keeps the focus. Depending on the Agenda for the meeting, it may be important for the team to pay particular attention to a specific Agreement, such as, “Because our work today is to identify intervention strategies for our struggling students, it is important that we practice our Agreement of “all voices heard.” Or, “While we have committed to upholding all our Agreements, the one about hearing all points of view will be essential for our work today.”
  • Fist of Five is a fun way to “check up” on our level of commitment to the Agreements. We are all busy people and this just reminds us to re-focus on how we have agreed to work together. Much like our childhood game of “rock-paper-scissors” we use the fingers of our fist to show our level of commitment. One is low; five is high. On the count of one-two-three, we hit our fist into the palm of the other hand . . . on three we show our level of commitment from one to five.
  • The Norm Guy is another fun way one high school team reminded themselves of their commitments. They printed a picture of Norm from Cheers and put it on a tongue depressor in a can in the center of their work table. Any time someone forgot an Agreement, someone simply lifted “the Norm guy” as a humorous and clever way to remind the team of how they had chosen to work together.

Periodic assessment of your team’s effectiveness ensures high commitment to the Working Agreements. How is your team keeping the fidelity of the Agreements you have made to one another?

How to Breathe Life into Existing Working Agreements

deep-breathWhile the first article in this series focused on the establishment of Working Agreements, this article will speak to breathing life into existing Working Agreements. Frequently, you tell us, “We have Working Agreements and no one pays attention to them!” So, what’s this about? Upon deeper reflection, it always comes down to one thing – failure of the team to hold themselves accountable for following the Agreements.

Here are a few ideas for how teams have “refreshed” their commitment to higher performance standards and expectations.

Start – Stop – Tweak

With the beginning of school near, the time is perfect for this strategy of revisiting existing Agreements. Take each Agreement statement and ask the team to what degree the Agreement is supporting their productivity as a team? Is it an Agreement to START supporting, to STOP using, or to TWEAK in a way that makes it stronger? In other words, is it an Agreement to maintain, to change, or to replace? Now is also a time to consider the addition of any new Agreements that will accelerate the performance of the team.

Truth Telling Survey

Have each team member take a survey to test the team’s awareness of Working Agreements. Use a rating scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”. Collate the data so the team can “see” the current level of commitment. Sample questions may include:

  • I know the Working Agreements established by my team.
  • Members of my team demonstrate commitment to the Working Agreements.
  • Our team works collaboratively to establish and achieve the goals of our work.
  • (design your own statement of expectation).

Compare and Contrast

Google . . . “characteristics of high-performing teams” . . .  for a list of the attributes of what makes these teams stand above others. Use the list as a benchmark for comparing and contrasting how your team is working together. Discuss what will accelerate your team’s work and spring forward into additional Working Agreements.

What strategy are you considering for breathing life into your existing Agreements?

Establishing the Coaching Agreement

What keeps partners moving in the same direction and what does this have to do with establishing the coaching agreement?

Imagine a couple who marries and has a beautiful wedding ceremony.  Everything about the ceremony goes exactly as planned through the combined thinking and ongoing agreements between the bride and groom.  It’s as if the two began the process of partnering as a married couple before the actual marriage began. Now imagine that same couple five years later, married and still committed to each other and yet not experiencing the level of quality they expected from the marriage, partly because they no longer take the time to talk together and reach agreements about what they want.  It’s as if they’re headed toward the future with different mind maps on where they’re going and how they plan to get there.  Successful marriages call for agreements up front and throughout the relationship.    

A similar set of agreements happen in the coaching relationship.  The agreements in this partnership, while not as intimate or personal as in a marriage, are significant enough to be identified by the International Coach Federation as one of 11 critical competences of a qualified coach. An effective and competent coach understands that coaching agreements between the coach and the client are established both at the beginning and throughout the relationship, taking on the form of macro and micro agreements.

Formal agreements at the macro level happen prior to beginning the coaching relationship. These agreements include parameters about how the coach and client work together, what the coaching relationship offers and does not offer, and clarity of goals the client wants to accomplish.  In this partnership, different from a marriage, the client is always the ultimate decision maker about where the conversation goes, including whether or not a change in conversation direction occurs.  The client sets the agenda. The skilled coach exhibits an attitude of exploration and partnership with the client and moves in the direction the client wants to move.

Examples of coach language used at the beginning of a coaching session to establish the macro agreement are:

  •  “As you think about the overall goals you’ve set for yourself this year, what would you like to focus on today and what do you want to achieve by the end of our call?”
  • “In our time today, what’s the most important thing for us to focus on and how will you know that it’s been a successful conversation for you?”
  • “We have about 30 minutes together today. What would you like to work on and what will be indicators that it’s been time well spent?” 

Examples of coach language used for micro agreements happening throughout a coaching session are:

  •  Now that we’ve established the focus for our conversation, where would you like to start?”
  • “It sounds like there are two imminent challenges you are facing.  Which one do you want us to focus on first?”
  • “Would it be helpful if we spent a little time thinking about …?”
  •  “How are we doing on giving you what you wanted?”
  • “Are you ready to move forward?”
  •  “May I challenge you here?“
  • “There seems to be a gap between what you say you want and what you are doing.  Would you like to talk about this?”
  • “Are we ready to end?”
  • “What steps do you want to take between now and when we next talk?”           

Coaching For Results includes specifics about how to establish macro and micro agreements in the seminars we provide.  Whether or not you are preparing to become a certified coach, or just wanting to increase your skills as a coach leader, establishing clear coaching agreements is vital for coaching success. 

What new insights are you having about establishing coaching agreements?  In what ways do you plan to increase your skills in establishing coaching agreements?

By Vicky Dearing, ACC
Coaching for Results Global