At the heart of the way we conduct ourselves is our social contract. This is where our team outlines their expectations in terms of the way we work together. Our social contract provides the basis of our culture. It guides our behaviour. It voices who we are and what we stand for. All team members have an opportunity to contribute to our social contract and it is periodically reviewed.
A social contract is a highly effective tool in creating and maintaining a culture. Culture can exist in the unsaid, in the way we treat each other and what forms of behaviour are acceptable and what we step over. In every culture we have established norms, but often they are not written down.
By writing down our expectations of each other, we enable and empower team members to be able to request what they want from each other and speak up when those needs are not being met. This framework creates an environment where everyone’s needs can be met and they can be themselves. The basis of an organisation’s effectiveness stems from the level of psychological safety its team members have.
The pandemic expanded the number of locations of our distributed team and changed the way we work.
The pandemic meant that most of us worked from home. As client and team member expectations changed, It allowed us to announce that our team can work from anywhere where they had a desk, a stable internet connection and were in the required time zone. This was a breakthrough policy and was largely applauded by the team. It created new challenges in the way we stay connected. Our social contact was more important than ever.
We are particularly proud of our new social contact. It was built by us, for us. Our entire organisation collaborated, contributed, and identified the most important aspects of how we work together. Once complete, it was circulated and signed by every team member – establishing clear expectations of behaviour and delivering a commitment to each other to ensure equity, trust and respect.
Details of the process we undertook
At our February team meeting, we used Miro to brainstorm our expectations of each other. Miro is an online collaboration tool that is effectively a digital whiteboard with post-it notes. Each team member could write as many post-it notes as they wanted in the categories of:
- Our work
- General ways of working
Hundreds of post-it notes of expectations were created!
The post-it note requests were then grouped to identify themes such as quality, efficiency, client focus, seek help, listen, integrity and many more. These were then summarised into statements that summed up the key themes and intents of the requests.
The team then had five votes each – represented by coloured dots – that they could apply to any statement they liked.
We then took any statement that had more than 10 votes and copied them to the third panel and grouped them.
From there we sought to summarise the intent of the single or grouped items. In some cases, the statement was already clear (eg: It’s OK to say I don’t know) and in other cases a new statement was created combining several expectations (Seek first to understand and then be understood).
New social contract
Our previous social contract had 20 statements, and this new agreement has 10 statements, making it easier to remember. Each statement is designed to create a context for our interactions to guide us, rather than a rule book to live by. We have achieved that by creating broad statements that were in our tone of voice and in some cases humorous. This list creates a much broader view of a situation than an unambiguous rule. The statements capture who we are as a team and guide how we interact with each other.
For example, ‘We treat people’s time as though it is precious’, covers a range of requests/expectations including:
- starting and ending meetings on time
- being prepared for meetings
- giving people an opportunity at the start of the meeting to identify if they are needed for the meeting
- thinking about who is really needed at a meeting
- setting up shorter meetings, and
- ultimately not wasting people’s time.
The social contract we came up with reflects the fundamental values we hold:
- We crave autonomy and we value each other
- We focus on the problem, not the person
- Team members feel safe to take risks and be genuine with each other.
Our social contract provides the freedom to be yourself and guides you on how to relate to people and produce great work together.
Our social contract – March 2022
We agree to have these statements guide our actions and behaviour:
- We empower ourselves and others to grow and be our best.
- We seek first to understand and then be understood.
- We add value and account for it by doing our time logs each day.
- We treat people's time as though it is precious.
- We conduct retros on each project, allowing us to have a growth mindset.
- We are empathetic, real and human in our interactions. We don't really know what people are dealing with.
- We value continuous progress and we focus on the customer.
- It's OK to say I don't know.
- Approach time zones as though you were the one who had to get up early or stay late.
- Be the person who is great to work with.
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