This is a secret tool that I just cannot get enough of when working with my team and clients! So in this blog post I’m going to unpack what it is, and how you can use a version of it to align your team and create agreements that really work.

I first came across the literature around psychological contracting in 2007 when I started my career, and then again when I did my training in Transactional Analysis and Behavioral Theory by Eric Berne (which is worth checking out if you’re curious to learn more).

In chapter one of my book Ditch Mediocrity (available on Takealot, Amazon and Barnes & Noble) we speak about the different phases a team goes through, based on a model by Bruce Tuchman. It’s an old model, but the fundamentals are still so apt to give context to what a team is experiencing.

There is the storming phase and we come across teams in storming all the time. It can be blatantly obvious or can linger just under the surface, when everyone knows it’s there, but no-one talks about it. 

Psychological contracting is the one tool that works 99% of the time to support a team to do things such as:

  • Create a space to deal with the potential storming that is coming
  • Work through the storming (it’s not healthy nor a good idea to avoid it)
  • Assist new team members to understand the team’s culture as they join
  • Kick start a new relationship between people who have to work closely together
  • Have mediation type discussions between bickering team members
  • Draw a line in the sand and start again with a new way of working

As Credo facilitators, we do a three-cornered contract, but that is a blog post topic for another day. You can also read more about it at English, F (1975) the Three Cornered Contract. TAJ 5:4

Today I want to focus on an easy process for you to create team agreements, which are a form of psychological contracting. It’s a process where everyone decides on the rules of engagement together. 

Here are some questions you can facilitate in your process:

What do we need from each other to work well together?

Examples:

  • Be open minded to other people’s ideas
  • Ask questions instead of making judgement statements
  • No interruptions when someone is talking, 
  • Don’t take all the talk time
  • Challenge yourself to think differently
  • Ask for help when uncertain
  • Be patient with someone who is asking questions

I know these seem obvious, but obvious is often forgotten and you will be surprised how just by agreeing to a few points like this, people feel more secure, safe and willing to participate in team discussion. It’s always incredible to witness as a facilitator, and a great reminder of how powerful this exercise is.

What are the different expectations we have of each other?

Examples:

  • I am learning, so give me feedback on the go, not once a month
  • 24 hour turnaround time on client requests
  • 10am – 11am each day is a slot with no interruptions as its deep work time

Are these expectations realistic? What do I/we need from the other party to live up to these expectations and vice versa?

Examples:

  • Ask for feedback when you feel I take too long
  • Please send client requests the moment you receive them and not last minute before you clock off work
  • I can do that, but then I also need 30 minutes of check in time with you before you start your deep work

Then my favourite thing to do (not everyone likes it – but if you are working with a friend as someone you lead or someone you report to I highly recommend this step):

  • What could go wrong by us working together? (List all the possibilities)
  • For each possibility, identify how you will handle the situation or issue together.

This way, if a specific “conflict scenario” takes place you have already agreed beforehand  (when you still liked each other!) how you will tackle it.

I did this with my boyfriend (who is now my husband) when I moved in with him in 2011 and our contract still stands – its written on a flipchart page and was done over two bottles of wine

There is so much talk about on the topic of psychologically safe working environments and learning organisations, which I 100% agree with. I find this very practical to lead conversations, clear the air and set clear boundaries for teams to move to high performance.

So my challenge to you this month is to try it out! If you struggle, feel free to reach out for a quick free 10 minute consultation with one of our Guiding Action Facilitators, valid for June 2021.

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