man writing on paper for working agreement

Working Agreement: A Complete Guide

Imagine you are working within a large team, or just starting out at a new job. How are you supposed to know what is expected of you? Do you just wing it and work as hard as possible?

That doesn’t sound sustainable and is a recipe for burnout as an employee. Not only can it make you stressed — since you don’t know what the expectations are, but it can impact your progress as you start working on miscellaneous tasks you may not be suited for.

The solution to this problem is to create a working agreement.

In this article, we will understand what a working agreement actually is, the benefits of having one, and a basic outline on how to create your own customized version.

Let’s get started!

What is a Working Agreement?

A working agreement is a set of norms or guidelines that team members agree to follow in order to improve their work process. It is a way of setting expectations and keeping everyone on the same page.

Creating a working agreement can help reduce conflict, build trust, and improve communication within the team. It can also make it easier to hold team members accountable since there is a written record of what was agreed upon.

If there is ever any uncertainty regarding the roles and responsibilities of a certain team member, or the exact job they were meant to complete — a working agreement is a great way to address this issue accordingly.

two hands shaking each other to signify a working agreement

Common elements of a working agreement

Working agreements differ according to the exact purpose of the document. There will be different working agreements for different teams, based on how complicated the job is and how strict the leadership team is about assigning roles.

However, most working agreements will have the following common elements within them. Let’s have a browse at some of these commonalities below:

1. Roles and Responsibilities

This is probably the most important part of a working agreement. It is essential that everyone knows what their job is, as well as the jobs of others on the team.

This can help to avoid confusion and overlap in work. Once roles and responsibilities are made clear, employees are able to work more efficiently and with a sense of purpose.

2. Communication

Communication is essential for any team to function properly, hence this is another key element that should be included in every working agreement.

Without it, there would be confusion and misunderstanding among team members. By setting clear communication guidelines, everyone will know how to communicate with each other and when it is appropriate to do so.

3. Meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of any team’s work process. They provide an opportunity for team members to come together and discuss the progress of their work, as well as any challenges they may be facing.

Meeting guidelines within a working agreement ensure that team members will know when and how often to meet, as well as what should be discussed at these meetings.

4. Decision-making

In order for a team to function properly, decisions need to be made efficiently and effectively. This can be difficult if there is no clear decision-making process in place.

Having instructions on decision-making within a working agreement clears up which team members are held responsible for making decisions and how these decisions should be made.

This can dissipate confusion in situations where an important decision needs to be made quickly, and there is no clear process for this to be done.

Who makes the decision? Who is held accountable? A working agreement answers these questions without fail.

5. Conflict resolution

No matter how cohesive your team may be, and how many team building activities you do — conflict is inevitable in any working environment.

It is important that teams have a plan in place for how to deal with conflict when it arises. By including a conflict resolution section in a working agreement, team members will know how to handle disagreements and resolve them in a productive manner.

man on virtual zoom meeting for a working agreement

Do you really need a working agreement?

You might be hesitant to incorporate these agreements into your company as you feel they aren’t necessary in most situations.

Let’s clear this up by going through some real-life cases where a working agreement could be an excellent solution.

You are starting a new job and need to know what is expected of you

A working agreement will ensure you know your role and responsibilities, and more importantly, give you a solid piece of documentation to prove you have been doing the work you were assigned to do.

This can be priceless for new hires as they are often scrutinised by their seniors, so creating a working agreement can give them comfort and remove the stress of not being sure of their responsibilities.

You are working in a large team and need to establish some ground rules

If you are working with a lot of people, it can be helpful to have a working agreement so that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them.

This can help reduce conflict and improve communication within the team.

You are working remotely and need to set some guidelines

If you are not in the same physical space as your team, it can be difficult to know what is expected of you.

Creating a working agreement can help address this issue by setting clear guidelines for how you should work together when you’re not in the same place, and not available to be communicated with at all times (which is the case with teams working across different time-zones).

boardroom meeting for working agreement

You are managing a project and need everyone to be on the same page

When you’re managing a project, it’s important that everyone involved knows their role and what is expected of them.

A working agreement can help ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities and helps keep the project on track.

You are collaborating with someone outside of your company

When you’re collaborating with someone from another company, it’s important to have a written record of what was agreed upon so that there is no confusion later on down the line.

A working agreement can help ensure that both parties know what is expected of them and helps to avoid any misunderstandings.

If any of these situations resonate with you, then it’s likely that creating a working agreement could be beneficial for you and your team.

5 Benefits of Working Agreements

Helps to reduce conflict

By having a working agreement in place, team members are aware of what is expected of them and can avoid any potential conflict that may arise from miscommunication.

Think about a situation where there is no working agreement, and two team members are working on the same piece of work due to some form of miscommunication.

At the end of the project, there has been a duplication of efforts and a huge amount of time has been wasted. Having a working agreement prevents a situation like this from coming about.

Builds trust

Working agreements help build trust within the team as it creates a sense of transparency and accountability.

Team members know that they can rely on each other to fulfill their roles and responsibilities.

Improves communication

By having a working agreement, team members are able to communicate more effectively with one another as there is a common understanding of what is expected.

This can help avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding that may occur.

Holds team members accountable

If there is ever any doubt as to whether a team member has fulfilled their responsibilities, a working agreement can be used as a reference point.

This written record of what was agreed upon can help hold team members accountable and ensure that they are meeting the expectations of the team.

Helps to improve work process

A working agreement can help to improve the overall work process as it sets out guidelines that team members need to follow.

This can help avoid any confusion or ambiguity regarding what form a certain piece of work should follow. This can be especially useful in detail-oriented industries such as accounting or law.

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Create Your Own Working Agreement

Ready to take the plunge? Create your own working agreement by following these 3 basic steps:

1. Define the purpose of the working agreement

The first step is to define the purpose of the working agreement. What is it that you hope to achieve by creating this document?

This will help you to determine what needs to be included in the agreement.

2. Draft the agreement

Once you have determined the purpose of the agreement, you can start drafting it. Include all of the relevant information that you feel is necessary and make sure to make it as specific as possible.

Make sure to get input from all team members so that everyone has a chance to provide their input.

3. Finalize the agreement

Once you have drafted the agreement, it is time to finalize it. Make sure that all team members have read and agreed to the document.

Once everyone has signed off on it, you can start implementing the working agreement.

The bottom line

If you’re sick of being unsure and ambiguous about the roles of your employees, consider implementing a working agreement.

It is quick and easy to do, with a vast range of benefits that can aid any firm to operate more efficiently.

Grab your computer and get drafting!