Social Contracts

Do you have a social contract with your team or your workmates? If not, have you thought about creating one?  Or are you on the fence? 

I am a big believer in Social Contracts and was thrilled to facilitate a new social contract for Accuteque recently. Working in a team is so fundamental to how we work these days but it can be hard to find your way around different personalities and preferences. And we are all individuals, people that are responding to changes ourselves, dynamically, and full of complexity. 

Why a social contract?

Having an agreement or contract for how we interact and behave can be a simple, yet effective tool for helping to build great agile teams. It can provide the guardrails for behaviour and the social norms that can work wonders for getting a team to pull in the same direction. It provides the freedom to be yourself and guides you on how to best relate to those around you. Ultimately, I think a social contract allows a team to produce great work. 

A social contract can be in whatever form works well for your team and it should build upon your company’s values. It might be a collection of statements or words or common sayings; it could even be emoji based or graphical.  While having a social contract is a great goal, the journey to create the agreement can be just as important. 

Social Contract

Our Process

For Accuteque, we started with some prereading for an all-in workshop. There are some great articles out there on creating a social contract and the importance – and so we shared these, as well as previous examples of social agreements and contracts so that everyone started on the same page. We were still in Covid-19 lockdown, so the next collaborative step was to gather around a virtual whiteboard. We reviewed our Values and Purpose and then had several iterative brainstorming sessions to gather thoughts on what was important to people. At the end of this we had our short list of 12-15 statements. One sample statement from this round was

Share the load. We are always ready to help. Don’t wait to be asked”. 

For our distributed team, we thought 12-15 statements was too long to remember, so we tried to refine the list.  In the end, we came up with 6 key social contract statements, and for each statement, we provided some context and further explanation. 

A sample

So, for our example above we landed on Share the Load as our contract statement, and then explained it as  

What we mean.  May look like this.  Doesn’t mean this 
  • We are always ready to help.  Just ask. 
  • It doesn’t mean offloading the “too-hard” or “too-boring” jobs to someone else 
  • There is power in being part of a team 
  • Don’t wait to be asked.  If you can see a way to help, help. 
  • Working together is more enjoyable and you can get a better outcome 
  • Don’t do it all yourself 

We share our social contract as part of our onboarding process. New starters often remark that it makes it easier to know what is expected and can fit in. If you think about the great relationships in your life, you will probably find that you have an unwritten or unspoken agreement on how you act with each other. But this may have taken many years to evolve. And having a social contract makes it safe to call out the behaviour rather than the person when you feel someone is not operating within the guardrails.  

A social contract is a short-cut to creating safe and powerful teams and is another way for us to make a positive difference for our colleagues. 

Hopefully, some of what I shared about our experience has resonated. I’d love to know your thoughts? Do you have a great social contract? Or do you need help getting one off the ground?

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1 Comment

  1. Randall Watson

    Great work Michelle, I remember the session.


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