How to build a social contract for your agile team

Team charters, team principles or vision statements are nothing new. If you visit enough work places you might see old A3 posters printed out with some clipart and an acrostic poem spelling out R.E.S.P.E.C.T. These type of statements have a purpose – usually in the early days to support a new team – but without any updates they don’t mean much.

The purpose of a social contract is to document how a team wants to work together. It should balance inspirational statements with the details of actual behaviours and attitudes that the team want to see. A key advantage in having a social contract is that by defining what the team should look like, the team will start to consciously and unconsciously exhibit those behaviorrs and attitudes.

There are somethings that a social contract isn’t

It shouldn’t be an arbitrary list of rules with punishments included (punishing late attendance by having to bring free coffees sounds like a good idea up until late attendees decide its better to just not show up). A social contract also needs to be more than a list of visionary statements.

When developing your social contact, think about a positive experience you have had working in a team

What values and behaviours were evident and how did these make you feel? Reflect on how these emotions, in turn, impacted the energy and productivity of the team. Can you recall how negative behaviours were handled by the team? Reflecting on your past experience in a great team (and even not so good teams) can give you a better idea about the specific types of behaviours and practices your social contract should capture.

Examples to use as a guide

A social contract needs to be developed by the team, otherwise you’ll ostracise those members that weren’t involved and without their buy-in the team’s performance will suffer. Use the following examples then as part of the discussion with the team to see what’s actually relevant for your work and what do your team mates see as most important.

Meetings

  • If you don’t believe you can contribute to a meeting, let the organiser know and don’t attend
  • Ensure all meetings have an agenda and that actions are recorded
  • If you can’t attend or need to leave early from a meeting notify the team beforehand
  • Come prepared to meetings
  • Be on time for Stand Ups and meetings

Agile way of working

  • If are assigned a job, take ownership of it and keep it up to date
  • Stick to your agreed working patterns. Let the team know when you are late or going early
  • If you think you need to work late to get the work done please highlight this to the iteration manager
  • Update cards before the Stand Up
  • Engage with a person before assigning and handing over a card

Communication

  • Raise a problem as soon as you see it
  • Respect each other and understand differences in knowledge
  • All team documents are to be shared
  • There are no silly questions, if you don’t understand, ask
  • Share success stories
  • Focus on the positives
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Do not interrupt and cut another person off while they are talking

Lastly, it’s critical to keep the social contract updated. You can do this by adding it as a standing agenda item to team meetings or at Retrospective meetings.

By having a social contract in place the team will have something to work towards, new team members will have a reference for how the team want to work and you can communicate to your stakeholders you team’s preferences for how to work together.

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