by Lisette Sutherland
Each team has a unique way of communicating. And each team has a particular combination of personality types. Just like an orchestra tunes up before a performance, or an athlete warms up before a practice, tuning a virtual team helps get everyone on the same page.
In many of my interviews with remote teams, I hear that creating a basic set of guidelines helps decrease misunderstandings. And through my workshops, I learned that very few companies have team agreements in place. So I wanted to share the experience of our Happy Melly team (which is completely remote) in hopes that our experience might help your team.
Phil Montero, Founder of The Anywhere Office, introduced me to a system he designed for creating team agreements: the “ICC Workflow”. The idea is to divide work into three categories (Information, Communication, and Collaboration) and discuss the assumptions around these categories.
Information: What kind of information do you need for the projects you work on?
Communication: What kinds of communication do you use to get your work done?
Collaboration: How do you know what everyone is doing?
To create the first version of our team agreement, we used Zoom.us in combination with an online sticky note tool, Linoit. We gave ourselves 15 minutes to brainstorm answers to each of the ICC categories. We added our sticky notes to the board and then discussed our answers as a team. Everything we agreed on, got placed in a Google doc. It was a relatively pain free process.
A rule of thumb in the remote world is that every time someone joins or leaves a team, it becomes a new team. And while a team agreement should be reviewed regularly, it doesn’t need to be reviewed every time the team changes. In fact, I learned that it can be good to wait a little while to review the team agreement after hiring, because it gives people a chance to settle in and get going.
Fast forward a few months, and we’ve hired a couple more people. While reviewing the team agreement with them, I noticed that a few things were outdated. It seemed like a good time to review the agreement and realign everyone.
We tried to set a date that everyone on our remote team could make, but with 9 people in various time zones, it was difficult. In the end, not everyone could make it, and the session was recorded for those that couldn’t be there. Instead of starting the ICC Workflow from scratch or using an online sticky note board, we simply went through the Google doc point by point and discussed the relevance of each decision we’d previously made.
I admit, it felt a bit tedious just going through the list. But even so, doing it highlighted some differences in how we used the tools and gave us the opportunity to clarify those assumptions.
For example, Chad skims iDoneThis status updates while others pay close attention. This is good to know so that if you want to communicate something important to Chad, it’s best to specifically tag him in your message or use a different tool, like Slack.
Anja assumed that when she saw someone’s Slack status set to available, that they were online and available – a fair assumption. However, it turned out that no one keeps their Slack status accurate; many of the team had the Slack mobile app, therefore appeared to be online, when in fact the weren’t. Clarifying this assumption saves her from feeling frustrated when she doesn’t receive an immediate response.
We also discussed our meeting protocols and ways to improve our team feedback processes. We talked about the need for being more timely when setting our quarterly OKRs, and how much most of us are struggling with the process. We also realized we didn’t have each others phone numbers (we had been communicating mainly through Skype and Zoom).
So even though our team was already happy working and functioning like a well-oiled remote machine, we still found ways to align and improve by reviewing our assumptions together. Whether you’re starting with a fresh team on a new project, or whether you’ve been working together for a long time, creating a team agreement can help form the glue that binds your team together. Learn more at a Work Together Anywhere workshop.
Do you have a team agreement story to tell? We would love to hear it.