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Why Should I Implement Working Agreements on My Team?

Disciplines like working agreements can be scary but should be used to benefit every member of a software team.

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A working agreement is a set of well-defined rules, guidelines, or expectations that your team has agreed to follow in order to achieve a common goal. These agreements can be about anything that is relevant to your team's workflow and often involve communication, collaboration, processes, or work distribution. They are essential for holding every team member accountable for putting in a considerable effort to meet the agreement and should be celebrated when consistently achieved or encourage positive action if it is consistently broken.

Before diving into how managers and teams can implement working agreements, we want to stress that working agreements should exist for the benefit of the individual team members, the team as a whole, and the organization.

Working Agreements for Software Engineers

Disciplines like working agreements can be scary for developers, but these few points should entice them to push for working agreements and be confident about the benefits they can provide.

The benefit of a working agreement is that the basis of its acceptance should live in the fact that it is an agreement between every member of a team. They are often created out of previous frustrations, bottlenecks, or inefficiency in a team’s workflow and exist to remain as efficient as possible so that individuals can do their best work.

As an example, the working agreement “No more than 3 PRs can be open at any time for each engineer.” could be implemented to help individuals manage their workload.

How? In this case, the engineer has the right to focus on open work before accepting more if this limit has been met. If this limit were to become a common blocker, it’s up to the manager to look into why this happens and how they can fix it. Perhaps PRs are too big in scope? Maybe code review is being neglected? 🤷‍♂️

Working Agreements for Teams and Managers

What is a dream scenario as an engineering manager? (This is both rhetorical and subjective.)

My dream scenario is that my team has come to understand and respect our mutually beneficial and agreed set of working agreements. Their great habits have become so strong that I can now focus on being the advocate for my team and mentoring each engineer into becoming a leader. When things don’t go according to plan they hold themselves and each other accountable in a way that is constructive and productive rather than passing blame.

Now open your eyes. Amazing, right? That’s the power of working agreements.

Although somewhat sarcastic, the above is entirely achievable. Not only will it benefit the team, but it will help managers make well-informed decisions that contribute to the overall efficiency of each team member.

Working Agreements for Your Organization

Put simply: The productivity of an organization can only be as efficient as the sum of its teams and individuals. This suggests that a bottleneck or inefficient workflow at the team or individual level will affect the organization as a whole and result in wasted time and money, unsatisfied customers, employee disengagement, turnover, and more.

By implementing working agreements at the team level and using them as a standard, teams and individuals will become more efficient; therefore, the organization will become more productive.

If you are sold on the power of working agreements, check out our article 5 tips for properly implementing working agreements.

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