Working Agreements

In a fast paced startup environment where everything needs to work better and faster, it can be really frustrating when communication slows things down.

A colleague constantly asks irrelevant questions that pulls the agenda off track. Another frequently interrupts. Someone takes up a lot of air time, making it hard for everyone to contribute. People in different time zones aren’t getting enough sleep because they’re Slacking late into the evening. Team meetings end with criticism and negativity, leaving everyone discouraged.

We tend to behave according to our individual preferences and needs. The person who asks a ton of unrelated questions may get energy from a good brainstorm. The person who interrupts all the time may want to be seen as having a lot to contribute. Folks answering Slack messages late at night want others to know they are responsive.

But when we each act according to our own preferences, we can’t meet the collective needs of the team effectively. Different preferences and behaviors create friction, decrease trust, and reduce productivity.

This is where working agreements come in.

What is a working agreement?

Working agreements increase clarity and accountability across a range of settings. They create clear commitments and smoother communication to help teams meet objectives faster. And, they allow a working environment where people feel safe to learn, grow, and challenge each other.

Working agreements help in several different settings. You don’t need or want them for every situation, but having a few different sets allows for breadth of coverage and specificity. The three I recommend are:

*See the end of this post for ideas of working agreements you can pull from*

Why should you use working agreements?

Clarify expectations. Working agreements establish clear, shared understanding on good communication, protocols, and behaviors, eliminating the need to guess or make assumptions.

Increase productivity and minimize friction. Clearly stated guidelines means more positive, helpful behaviors, and less negative, unhelpful behaviors. The result is more productivity toward your objectives.

Build awareness of our own and others’ behavior. The conversation to establish working agreements opens space to understand what’s important to everyone, surfacing things that otherwise wouldn’t be discussed openly.

Create shared responsibility. Clear, explicit guidelines that everyone agrees to create a stronger sense of shared responsibility to follow and uphold them.

Build accountability. Holding someone accountable to a missed commitment is much easier when you can use shared language to reference something they’ve previously agreed to.

Put culture into action. Working agreements strengthen culture by translating company values into everyday actions and behaviors.

Making your own working agreements

  • Simple and direct
  • Limited in number (no more than 7–8)
  • Developed together by the team
  • Describe positive behaviors to be more effective (not negative behaviors to avoid)
  • Easily enforceable (it’s clear if someone violates a working agreement)
  • Visible during meetings
  • Easily accessible by all team members

Now that you know what the end goal looks like, here’s how to bring your team together to create your own set of working agreements.

  1. Schedule 60–90min when everyone can meet together.
  2. Decide which type of working agreements (team, communication channels, conflict, etc) you’re creating.
  3. Give everyone a few minutes to write down possible working agreements that complete the phrase, “We work best when we…”. Each idea is a potential guideline that will support good communication, behaviors, and protocols.
  4. Once everyone has two to three ideas, ask each person to share and briefly explain. If your group is bigger than 8–10 people, you may want to break into two smaller groups to discuss the first round of possible working agreements (each small group of 4–5 producing no more than 8 possible working agreements).
  5. If you are in person, have people write their ideas on post-it notes and put them on a whiteboard once they have shared. If you are remote, use a shared doc where people can add their ideas to a list. Group duplicates together.
  6. Everyone votes on their top 3–4 choices to identify the possible working agreements which have the most support.
  7. From there, hone the list as needed with further voting and / or discussion.
  8. Your goal is to end up with no more than 7–8 working agreements.
  9. Document your working agreements in a central and easily accessible place — Gdocs, Notion, etc. Bring them to meetings (have everyone print them out or pull them on up a screen) so they can be easily referenced.

Here is a working agreements template & example you can use to build your own.

Bringing it all together

Read on for working agreement examples and FAQs…

— — — — —


Team working agreements

  • When and where regular team meetings take place
  • Observe time frames
  • Have fun
  • Stick to the agenda (use the parking lot as needed)
  • Start and end meetings on time
  • Take risks
  • Participate fully
  • Mistakes are learning opportunities to should be shared
  • Celebrate mistakes
  • Celebrate wins
  • Keeping meetings on track is a shared responsibility (if you see it, say it)
  • Share air time
  • Come prepared
  • Ask good questions
  • If you’re running a meeting, share the agenda beforehand
  • If you can’t make a meeting, let people know at least 1 hour in advance (unless it’s an emergency)
  • Cell phones are off or on silent during meetings
  • How to communicate vacation or sick days

Communication channel working agreements

  • Only call if it can’t wait
  • If it’s an emergency, call (don’t text)
  • Don’t text on weekends (email if needed)
  • Emails should be 5 lines or less (link to a doc if needed)
  • Text response time should be 90min or less during business hours
  • Slack messages are for quick updates, not discussions (use email / meeting time)
  • Send meeting agendas beforehand by email
  • Slack do not disturb is on 10pm-6am local time for everyone
  • Don’t call / text / Slack while angry
  • Use the palm tree emoji in Slack when OOO
  • 25 and 50min meetings
  • Strategy discussions in person or via video conference
  • Be clear if you prefer a different communication channel
  • No one is expected to check communication channels after 10pm (except in emergencies)

Hard conversation working agreements

  • Be constructive
  • Empathy toward yourself and others
  • Listen before you respond
  • Ask for clarification before jumping to conclusions
  • Request a break if you’re emotionally escalated
  • Respect confidentiality where appropriate
  • Differences of opinion are natural and useful
  • Speak for yourself, not on behalf of others
  • All ideas are valid
  • One person talks at a time
  • Remember we’re all on the same team
  • Don’t forget to breathe


We have our list of working agreements. Now what?

What happens when someone breaks a working agreement?

For example, let’s say one of your team’s working agreements is ‘make space for everyone to contribute’. During an intense discussion, your team member, Miles, has been taking up a lot of air time advocating for his point of view. With working agreements, it’s everyone’s responsibility to uphold them. So, you decide to gently point out the broken commitment to Miles. You say something like: “Miles, thanks for your thoughts here. In line with our working agreements, we want to make sure everyone is able to contribute. (turning to the rest of the group) Who else wants to share their thoughts on this topic?” Because you have a tangible working agreement to reference, it makes it easier to bring up the broken commitment gently and respectfully while holding the person accountable.

How often should we update working agreements?



Executive Coach for startup founders, execs & investors. Background in Counseling Psychology & VC. Outgoing introvert.

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Lauren Adelle Coaching

Executive Coach for startup founders, execs & investors. Background in Counseling Psychology & VC. Outgoing introvert.