“Working Agreements for Distributed Teams” from Ernesto Custodio, MBA, Ph.D.

Upgrade your Scrum events, empower your Scrum team, and more. Join Scrum Trainer, Scrum@Scale Trainer, and distributed teams expert Ernesto Custodio as he explores team working agreements – in a virtual environment:

I consider working team agreements to be an actual artifact, not an optional one. The Scrum Guide recognizes the three artifacts, but the working agreement is not one of them. For a distributed team member environment to work effectively, a comprehensive working agreement is crucial.
Various factors make agreement considerations challenging, such as working hours, personal time, workspace availability, and many other aspects that used to be controlled in the office. These factors are now out of our control as remote operations become exceedingly more common due to the global pandemic environment. Working agreements need to be made to account for this change. Organizations that assume co-located teams can operate in the same manner as distributed teams can be dangerous for productivity and members’ well-being.


When it comes to the working agreement, there are different scenarios that should be addressed. If any scenarios could be considered a significant risk, a solution should be agreed upon in the working agreement. For example, a potential issue may be that remote team members will have difficulty meeting and collaborating. This challenge can be resolved by establishing mandatory collaboration hours in the working agreement. A few caveats for this common scenario would be to ensure requests are immediately addressed, members have access to a computer and can communicate through the appropriate tools, and that completed work is documented properly using the agreed management software.


Identifying and coming up with solutions to potential issues will be the primary basis for the working agreement. These agreements should include any details about circumstances that might help members work more efficiently and should be as detailed as necessary for every member to understand. If there is a statement that everyone can clearly understand, keeping that item concise can simplify the agreement.


Another aspect of complexity in working agreements is the potential for new members to understand the agreement. For example, if a team has been together for years, it may be tempting to use inside information or omit details because the entire team is familiar with the same concepts. However, ensuring that new members can read the same document and have the same understanding will improve onboarding and mitigate the learning curve associated with joining an established team. Working agreements should be universally understood, and the only way to fully achieve this is to discuss members’ needs and differences.


The detail involved in working agreements is another aspect that can be adapted as the team progresses. If an agreement item does not specify a scenario that the team often faces, going back and adjusting that item to fit the team’s precise needs will create a formal procedure to address the issue or hindrance.


Additions to the working agreement may not always be foreseen, and the document may need to be adapted to circumstances along the way. Revising the agreement to address current issues the team may face will help create a flexible team capable of change and growth.


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