Creating Agreements for
All you need is a plan, a road map,
and the courage
The source of productivity and fulfillment
in personal and professional relationships is effective collaboration.
A successful organization is made up of series of collaborations:
Every aspect of running an organization can be seen through the "lens of agreement."
We collaborate by forming agreements. The agreements are either expressed (spoken or written) or implied (assumed.) The highest levels of productivity take place when the collaboration is so elegantly expressed that it expresses a meeting of both mind and heart. Conversely, all conflict, and its large multi faceted cost, is caused by the absence of a clear agreement. Either we did not take the time, or we did not know what we needed to talk about to craft an effective, explicit agreement.
It is surprising that this is a skill we learned given that crafting agreements with others is a fundamental life skill. This is especially true given the huge cost of conflict that results from our implicit, inartful, incomplete agreements. These agreements do not effectively express a joint vision or generate a collaborative partnership. Besides not knowing what you have to talk about, a major cause of the agreement breakdown is that the process of forming agreements is seen as an adversarial process of negotiating you try to win.
Because of how we have been conditioned negotiating an agreement is seen as an adversarial process. Most of us function in a "me vs. them" context. Negotiating is a process within which you try to advantage yourself. The negotiation is not held as a process intended to express a clear joint vision, with a road map to desired results. I believe everyone would benefit greatly if we embraced the idea of creating agreements for results, and stopped negotiating agreements for protection. It is important to shift the context of the process of forming agreements from adversarial win/lose negotiating, to a joint visioning process that articulates an inclusive vision of outcomes, and a road map to the composite of desired results everyone agrees on. It is a fundamental shift from the traditional idea of agreements for protection that focus on providing remedies for what goes wrong, to designing agreements for results that express a joint vision that satisfies everyone. The idea is to shift our thinking from "you or me" to "you and me?"
I hope I have convinced you of the importance and pervasiveness of agreements in your organization. You might be wondering about "how do you start putting together an effective agreement?" The answer is simple, but it's not easy! Simple in that all you have to do is engage in a discussion about each one of the following elements that is essential for an effective agreement. It's not easy because it means breaking lifetime habits of moving forward without putting an agreement in place. It's like shifting from
Ready, Fire, Aim
Ready, Aim, Fire.
A few years ago I asked a senior manager at a client company what her biggest challenge was. Without skipping a beat she said it was getting her reports to stop and think about where they are going before they moved into action. Otherwise you end up in places no one wanted to go to.
Each of the following elements is an essential key for an effective agreement. Use these elements as a template for constructing "agreements for results." It is useful to reach an understanding about each element with everyone involved. The process is very important because it is the beginning of a new working relationship. Navigating the process together is the foundation for the new relationship; and the relationship is much more important than any specific agreement. The ability to work together over time in a relationship based on covenant, no matter how difficult things are, is the context that will make the collaboration successful. One of the questions lawyers ask in determining if an agreement was "legally" binding is whether there was ever a "meeting of the minds." I believe that to have a real "agreement for results" you also need have a "meeting of the hearts."
Please don't be intimidated by the template that follows. The elements become internalized quickly. Fortunately, every agreement does not require a long discussion about every element. As you use the template you will become facile with it. I encourage you to be artful - to customize it for your unique circumstance. Over the past fifteen years I have facilitated hundreds of agreements. You will be amazed at how artful you can get at both crafting agreements, and recognizing what's missing that may lead to conflict.
The elements of an effective agreement are:
Here's an explanation of each element.
In my experience most organizations exhibit silo thinking in building their training and management development programs. I have had the experience of teaching many of the basic educational courses that are considered part of both management and employee development. I believe that whether it's basic management, communication, delegation, coaching and counseling, conflict resolution, project management, or team skills there is a common objective - moving from where you are to where you want to be in the simplest way. I have discovered that the common denominator in all these areas of competence is the ability to coordinate action and collaborate effectively. The best tool that I know of is agreements for results.
Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking people will need to thrive in the future.. Stewart is the author of "Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration" (Berrett-Koehler 1998) and more recently "The Book of Agreement" (Berrett-Koehler 2002). Visit www.ResolutionWorks.org for additional information.
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