Anytime a group of people interact routinely, they develop agreements about how things are going to be done.
Agreements create structure for your relationships and determine how you work together. For example, your job title and description is an agreement you are in with the organization you work in. That kind of agreement is explicit and obvious.
You are also working within agreements about how everyone is going to behave. Many of these are less obvious and usually are not spoken explicitly. These are about things like how formal you should be, how much joking and kidding around is ok, or whether you talk openly about things that are uncomfortable.
In social science we call these “norms” – the unspoken rules of the game. I call them agreements in order to call attention to the fact that when we go along we are “acting in accordance” – the very definition of agreement.
These kind of unspoken agreements are often the most important ones for what actually happens between people. When we see that we can choose to be more intentional.
The key to moving the group to a higher level of success is to become aware of the agreements that are driving what happens so we can make sure that they serve our goals. For example, is there an unspoken agreement that it’s ok to use smart phones during meetings? If so, does that serve your intended outcomes? Sometimes it might, sometimes it might not.
Wouldn’t it help to make a clear agreement about that?
Another common hidden agreement is that it doesn’t really matter if you miss a deadline. This can be a success killer. Efficiency and productivity suffer. Morale falls as confidence in each other.
One of the most powerful things you can do to improve the level and quality of results in your group is to get a reign on the hidden agreements at play and put explicit, strong agreements in their place. Then you’ll have everyone working in concert and knowing what they can count on from each other. We all know how much that improves the quality of results.
Be on the lookout for hidden agreements.
When an explicit agreement is broken and that is not repaired, another agreement develops. The example of the missing deadlines illustrates this. Learn to notice when you are acting in accordance with something that has not been intentionally established to support results.
Review all your agreements, explicit and hidden.
Determine whether they are truly serving your inspired mission and goals or have you fallen into them without realizing how they are affecting your success.
Negotiate explicit, strong agreements.
Wherever there is confusion or multiple ideas about what is supposed to happen you have a lack of agreement. Make ones that work for you. Replace hidden agreements with explicit ones that everyone can be accountable for.
Such clarity and intention in our agreements makes full accountability possible. Without such clarity it is as though you’re all playing your own game. We’ll explore that in more depth next month.