Before We Begin

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by Stewart Levine

Before we begin working on resolving conflict and creating agreements, I would like you to say “yes” to the following agreement. This agreement expresses the standards and promises we need for us to work together successfully in this web-based program.

ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF EFFECTIVE AGREEMENTS

Before we begin working on resolving conflict and creating agreements, I would like you to say “yes” to the following agreement. This agreement expresses the standards and promises we need for us to work together successfully in this web-based program.

The 10 elements this agreement is built upon are typically the subject of dialogue and discussion. In this case we offer them in the spirit of getting started, as the substance of each element is already clear to us.

 

1. INTENT and VISION: The big picture of what you intend to accomplish together must be specified. The first step is sharing a big picture of what you are doing together as a context for the details. The clearer and more specific the detail of desired outcomes, the more likely you will attain them as visualized.

2. ROLES: The duties, responsibilities, and commitment of everyone must be clearly defined. Everyone necessary to achieve the desired results must be part of the agreement.

3. PROMISES: The agreement contains clear promises so everyone knows who will do what. With specific commitments you can tell if the actions will get you to the desired results and what actions are missing.

4. TIME/VALUE: All promises have time deadlines for completion. These are called “by whens”: by when will you do this, and by when will you do that. The time the agreement will be effective is also important. Who gets what for what? Is the exchange satisfactory? Is it fair? Does it provide adequate incentive? Clarity is critical because everyone must anticipate satisfaction or someone will sabotage the transaction.

5. MEASUREMENTS OF SATISFACTION: The evidence that everyone has achieved his or her objectives must be clear, direct, and measurable to prevent disagreement. This element is critical because it eliminates conflict about the ultimate question: Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

6. CONCERNS AND FEARS: Bringing as yet unspoken difficulties to the surface provides the opportunity to anticipate and prevent the challenges you know will come up during the collaboration. This discussion will deepen the partnership being created or let you know this is not a partnership you want to be part of.

7. RENEGOTIATION: No matter how optimistic and clear you are, it will become necessary to renegotiate promises and conditions of satisfaction. Circumstances change, and it is critical to anticipate this at the beginning so the relationship can evolve and prosper. It is also critical to provide everyone with an exit strategy they can follow with dignity. Anyone who feels imprisoned in a transaction, partnership, or relationship cannot make his or her maximum contribution to the enterprise.

8. CONSEQUENCES: Although you may not want to police the agreement, it is important to agree on consequences for anyone who breaks a promise. Even more importantly, what will be lost to both parties and society if the project does not happen?

9. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: Conflicts and disagreements arise when people work together. If you agree to step into the attitude of resolution and have an agreed process that leads to a new agreement, resolving conflicts will be easier.

10. AGREEMENT ?  – When you have dialogued about the first nine elements, it’s time to ask whether you trust the process to move forward. Everyone ought to be satisfied and ready to take action. Now is the time to work on the agreement until you are satisfied that you have an agreement. If you’re not clear that you do, then you don’t. Unless and until you are satisfied, do not move into action. You will not have a shared vision to work toward. Commit to embrace the future as a new opportunity that can be enjoyed. This attitude lubricates the collaboration. Once you have agreement someone (or everyone) must take responsibility for stewarding the project, ensuring the agreement is honored and the intended results are obtained. While this is everyone’s responsibility, it is important enough to have a point person.

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