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The Importance of Team Agreements in Project Management
By Kuntal Thakore

As the article states, I’m going to talk about the importance of team agreement. To describe the problem, allow me set up the scene where project meeting is taking place.

During the planning phase of project, the project manager was having an important meeting with the stakeholders. The discussion was about the requirements provided by stakeholders. Some of these requirements were in conflicts with each other. Some of the requirements had to be eliminated in order to keep the project in the confines of the defined scope.

Various stakeholders felt very strongly about keeping their requirements. There were intense arguments made by multiple stakeholders. After about 20 minutes into the meeting, three key stakeholders abruptly got up and walked out of the meeting. The same thing happened in the next several meetings. Needless to say, the requirement analysis phase of the project was finally completed but left behind a team that did not function well together, along with a trail of frustration, bad feelings, and deep divides.

This is a real-life scenario that occurred on one of the corporate wide IT projects that I participated in as stakeholder a few years ago. What went wrong in the situation? What could have helped to avoid the situation? If there were proper team agreements defined and utilized, the situation could have been avoided.

Team agreements are an effective way to address such issues. When you create a set of team agreements on how you want to function when difficult issues arise, you are much better equipped to handle the challenges that occur. The team agreements help you work together in a way that truly honors each other and a return to a sense of defined purpose when you experience the inevitable challenges of working in team settings. Each member needs to learn to communicate with professionalism, confidence and compassion even in difficult situations.

The critical part of a successful team environment is making sure everyone has the same vision, before moving into action. The classic “forming, storming, morning, performing ” stages that teams go through are best managed with set of agreements. The agreements serve the norming function as members of the team agree on how they will work with each other. The agreement reflects the resolution of their “storming”.

The team agreements can be utilized on projects using SCRUM as well. You should continue to maintain team agreements and update them as the outcome of retrospectives. The refined team agreements can be used in subsequent sprints. This is an important step in the evolution of ‘just a group of people’ to a SCRUM team.

One of the most important tasks in early meetings is to sign off on a team agreement that clearly defines your expectations for each other, your operating parameters, and the ways in which you will define success at the end of the project. There are numerous ways to create a team agreements.. The main idea is to keep it simple and real. It should be defined by the team, not just by project manager. Ask the team 3-5 things they believe a team should do to support themselves moving towards the goal. They might come up with items such as “active participation” and “communication”.

Encourage them to identify specific soft skills and interpersonal behaviors. Make sure to get signoff from the team on agreements document. Some teams agree to this by demonstrating a show of hands, others may physically retain the paper that includes the list of agreements and brainstorming notes. This step enforces public accountability with each other and the project manager. Some teams have them even printed up and post them near their offices or conference room.

I have included a sample set of team agreements to use or to help you compose your own.

  • Have Open communication and active participation
  • Utilize Lessons learned from experience
  • Treat all team members with respect and value other team member’s opinion and time
  • Be a Leader
  • Respect others’ views/thoughts and appreciate contribution
  • Resolve all conflicts positively
  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Define the operating parameters within which to conduct meetings
  • All formal meetings have an agenda and have one conversation at a time during the meeting

There is a number of benefits for creating team agreements:

  • The team agreements help team members work together in a way that truly honors each other and return to a sense of aligned purpose when team experiences the inevitable challenges of working on any project. It makes everyone in team aware of the expectations of the group.
  • It creates a foundation for building trust relationships, which strengthens the team’s infrastructure. It provides forum for open communication. It also allows team members to be accountable and allows project manager to offload this responsibility.

What’s more? Having the team agreements can help your team get rid of assumptions about what’s expected as they interact with each other which can increase trust and enhance performance. A highly functioning team is an infrastructure for a successful organization, and as a leader, you can help the team set the foundation for success! The ultimate role model for the agreement is the team leader. Talk about it, refer to it and most importantly, use it!

Kuntal Thakore, PMP, CSM has 13+ years of experience in Software Industry covering areas of Customer Service, Quality Assurance, IT administration and Software Development. Kuntal has managed and participated in IT and Software projects ranging in size from small to large corporate-wide projects. He is able to build cross-functional teams, negotiate various levels of hierarchy, and apply his experience to small and large businesses alike. He has strong customer oriented skills and technical development experience to work cross functionally for resolving customer issues. Kuntal holds degrees in Computer Science and lives in California’s Silicon Valley. He can be reached at bkthakore@gmail.com.

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