As an agile coach, one of the first things I do when launching new teams is help them to create a Team Values Statement.
Traditional working agreements are a declarative agreement by a team regarding how they will work together to bring cohesion and enable collaboration. They set the ground rules, so to speak, so that everyone knows what field they are playing on. Working agreements create a safe place for teams to determine the atmosphere in which they want to work. They also provide a way for the team to address behaviors that negatively impact that atmosphere in a non-confrontational way. The agreement gets to be the bad guy. If behavior doesn’t line up with the agreement, the team can either choose to change the working agreement or modify behavior to conform to the agreed standard. Either way – the team owns the agreement.
Team Values Statements have a different purpose. Instead of being an atmospheric thermometer for behaviors, the Team Values Statement sets the foundational mindset from which the team will make decisions and base its actions. The values statement is derived from the collective values of the team who discusses what they personally value in a team. Once the team discusses and understands what their team members value, they determine which values seem to resonate across the team consistently. They decide which values are most important and adopt those values in the form of written values statements. Knowing the collective values of the team helps individual team members make like decision from a common mindset.
For example if a team values producing a quality product that causes them to feel pride and accomplishment when it is delivered to customers, it will impact the choices they make when there are hard decisions to be made about sacrificing quality or missing a deadline.
Outside of traditional agile teams I have used working agreements with management teams to help build cohesion and to develop a united mindset when managing their company. Values Statements can be useful to any type of team whether they are managers, ministers, software developers, band members, teachers, or family members – a common mindset helps create a safe and collaborative environment where people can unite to succeed.