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?

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Karen Anderson, PCC, M. Ed.

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