Picture of the Bali team on a team building event

Social contracts give everyone a voice

How do you create an environment where people share ideas, ask for help and feel safe to say ‘I don’t know the answer’?

Marty Drill

By Marty Drill, 10 October 20234 minute read

This is the third time we have publicly shared our social contract. Our intention is to contribute to other businesses in their pursuit of building an environment where people can be themselves and get what they need. Organisations often believe that they set the culture. The reality is that they set a tone. It's the interactions and behaviours amongst the team in everyday interactions that are ultimately people’s experience of the organisation’s culture. 

Here at Luminary, we have a distributed workforce and over 25 different cultural backgrounds. Not only does a Social Contract contribute to the clarity of how we operate, but the input of each and every team member supports equity and inclusion practices in our day-to-day lives.

The process we undertake is to invite the team to brainstorm their expectations of each other. We do this in Miro, a digital whiteboard that allows people to use post-it notes to share their expectations. This gives everyone a voice, particularly those who would not normally share their expectations. It is a common misconception that quiet people can ‘just roll with it’. Often they are most upset because no one ever asks them what they need. So we asked them. 

Here is a close-up of one section of the brainstorm where we categorised the post-its following brainstorming to show the themes. We included a summary for each group of requests:

Luminary's social contract brainstorming, August 23

From here we take all of the summaries and provide them as a list. We then summarise again and another session where the team can vote on those that they want to be included in the final social contract. 

Picture of social contract screengrab

This is a shortened view of the process and if you would like to see it in more detail, contact us. 

Here is the final social contract that we voted for:

  • Clarity - Provide clarity with expectations, responsibilities, aims and outcomes
  • Empathy - We are empathetic, real and human in our interactions
  • Effective meetings - Our meetings make the best use of everyone's time
  • Empowerment - We empower ourselves and others to grow and be our best
  • Impact - We strive to ensure our work has an impact on clients and their customers
  • Feedback - We conduct retros on each project, providing actionable feedback that allows us to improve
  • Performance - We strive to create high-performing teams
  • Respect - We treat people's time as though it is precious and consider everyone's time zones
  • Positive contribution - We contribute positively to all the people around us

We chose to summarise each commitment to make it easier to remember. The detail of each commitment provides people with the ability to understand what is expected of them. In the example of ‘Effective meetings - Our meetings make the best use of everyone's time', this summarises all of the expectations that the team added including the following.

Picture of the social contract voting

While each of these items is not represented in the statement, the summary requests people think about everyone in the meeting time, including the clients who are actually part of the team. As such, when booking or attending a meeting, people will ask themselves, ‘What can I do to make this meeting the best use of everyone’s time?’. This is likely to result in people planning the meeting, ensuring everyone can participate, consider the timing and time zones and ensuring the meeting has a purpose and action items. 

Social contracts do not tell people how to behave. They instead get us to agree on the behaviours that are important.

At a project level, social contracts can be far more specific as they focus on specific ways of working on the project. So each team has their own social contract that may deal with meeting scheduling such as ‘no meetings before 9.15’ (as someone drops the kids off). 

We encourage you to ask your team what their expectations are of each other, collate them and ask them to vote for what they see as the most important. From there, ask people to commit to the social contract by signing it. It will then allow the team to speak up when the team is not adhering to the social contract and as such they deal with what is not working (eg meetings not starting on time), rather than singling out an individual’s behaviour. 

Social contracts give everyone a voice by having an agreement that the team can refer to and ensure they get what they need. As a result, the team have clear expectations of each other and are more likely to be a high-performing team. 

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