by Stewart Levine

Because the WaWa, the Canada Goose, flies in formation,it is freedom tempered by responsibility. The leader must keep the group on course and look ahead for danger. The others must look around, to the sides, to each other. And they will reach their destination, not because they can fly, but because they fly together. We too, seek to fly. To fulfill our dreams, to accomplish our goals. But we cannot fly alone. We must always look ahead, behind, and to the welfare of those who seek to fly with us. If our destination is a better way of life we must demonstrate our commitment to work with one another. If we are to fly, we must fly together, dependent on each other, or be scattered by the storms that confront us. -WaWa Corporation Philosophy

It is much easier not to exercise or brush your teeth in the morning. It is much simpler just to get on with your day. Although stopping to form an agreement before moving forward is more tedious than moving into action immediately, it will not likely produce the results you desire. It’s the difference between



Ready… Aim… Fire

The later is much more effective because it provides clear direction before action.

When introducing the concept of a team agreement or Agreements for Results to an audience, I think of the tag line from an old Quaker State Motor Oil commercial – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later. That line holds true when thinking about agreements. Most people never think about investing the time to make explicit the implicit agreement they believe they have at the beginning of a new team or project. They’re off and running, everyone with their own vision of the destination, and how to get there, without the clarity necessary to minimize the potential for conflict. Like the Quaker State warning of engine damage if you don’t do the preventative maintenance of changing your oil, they will incur the cost of inevitable conflict, a cost that can be prevented.

When we think about the idea of having a team agreement we usually think about long legal documents, lots of “what ifs” and how we can protect ourselves from something we do not want to happen. They do not want to get hurt. I believe that we would all be better off if when beginning a new endeavor we could shift our focus to a vision of results you want to produce, not the calamities you want to avoid.

The following Ten Essential Elements make up the template of items that are elementary items that must be discussed if you want to create a vision and a map to getting the results you want. I have compared the mindset of an “Agreements for Results” perspective, with the traditional Agreements for Protection” mental model. Notice the difference and please think about which one is more effective.

The elements of an effective agreement are:












1.  INTENT & VISION desired outcome “what ifs?”
2.  ROLES take responsibility limit accountability
3.  PROMISES commitment qualifiers and conditioners
4.  TIME & VALUE by when’s / fair return most for least
5.  MEASUREMENTS OF SATISFACTION inspiring goals excuses and escapes
6.  CONCERNS, RISKS and FEARS compassion understanding edge for strategic advantage
7.  RENEGOTIATION deal with unknowns changes strike hard bargain
8.  CONSEQUENCES reminder of promises punishment
9.  CONFLICT RESOLUTION get back on track exact some premium
10. AGREEMENT? trust enough escape possible?


RESULTS: Focus on what you want to happen.
PROTECTION: Focus on all the “what ifs” that could go wrong

You can tell what will happen in your life by paying attention to your dominant thoughts. Given that, if we focus on the calamities we increase the chances they will happen. What we really want in any collaborative context is everyone focusing on desired results – the best possible vision of the future. That will greatly improve the chances of what we want to materialize happening. It’s obvious that when you bring on a new hire, it’s more useful to see them leaping tall buildings than focusing on the mistakes they might make.

RESULTS: Making sure someone has responsibility for all critical tasks
PROTECTION: Narrowly defining responsibility to limit accountability and liability

We want to make sure we have what we need to get the job done without anything slipping through the cracks. We want clarity about who can be counted on for what, compared to someone saying, “that’s not my job!” In the old context people liked to hide. They did not like to take the responsibility for making something happen because if something went wrong, they were responsible. Hopefully the fear of making mistakes is no longer as powerful a driver it once was. We have all learned that the need for innovation requires experimentation. We know that mistakes cannot be “punished” if you expect continued risking, the heart of entrepreneurship.

RESULTS: Contribution – committing to wholeheartedly do your part required for success, not out of coercion, but from belief in the project’s mission
PROTECTION: Doing the least; hiding behind qualifying words that cloud and condition what you are promising

Who specifically will be doing what? The word “promise” is used too lightly in our culture. It is essential for every member of the team to understand the promises they are making and to realize that everyone else is relying on them. You can also consider this a team action plan. It is also a checkpoint. If everyone delivers what he or she promises, you will produce the desired results. Each promise must have the discipline of a “by when” because, without a date, commitment is illusory.

RESULTS: Clear time commitments and satisfaction with the value given and received
PROTECTION: The most for the least

Clearly stated “BY WHEN’S,” and for how long the promises will be kept. Everyone must be satisfied that what they will get from the project is worth what they are putting in. If someone is under compensated they will be resentful. Resentful participants do not produce results that are “beyond expectation,” but people committed to a vision do.

RESULTS: Goals that inspire and state clearly and measurably what is expected
PROTECTION: Qualifiers to argue from and use as excuses

What are the objective measures that will tell you if you accomplished what you set out to do so there are no arguments about it? For some people it is frightening to make a commitment that will hold them visibly accountable to a promise they made, so they will look for an edge.

RESULTS: Compassion for any “anxiety-producing” concerns and risks that a “partner” sees and feels
PROTECTION: An edge to take strategic advantage of when you are inside their head, in a position to play “games”

You address concerns and fears to make everyone as comfortable as possible about moving forward. Doing this is a way of responding to “internal chatter” that might inhibit full participation. It solidifies partnership by addressing what is lingering in people’s minds. It enables people to clearly identify risks, and to choose to move forward anyway. Each person should be willing to take the other’s deal.

RESULTS: How can we make this work as unanticipated changes take place
PROTECTION: How can changes be used for advantage

A commitment to renegotiation requires ongoing learning, and staying in the mind set of solving a mutual problem to get desired results even though things happened no one anticipated (which is one thing you can be sure of.) This is the key principal that drives every learning organization.

RESULTS: What reminds everyone of the significance of promises and failure
PROTECTION: What would be a good punishment

It is important to keep people mindful of promises they made and focused on delivering promised performance. It is as important to have people realize the connection between their expectations and failure to perform. Becoming conscious of that gap serves as a motivator. Consequences are put in place not as punishment, but to remind us of the loss of an unrealized vision, and the sanctity of our promises.

RESULTS: What will get us back on track quickly?
PROTECTION: How can the resolution process be used for leverage or advantage?

It is important to embrace conflict as expected and to hold it as an opportunity for creativity in how we deal with specifics we did not anticipate. It is very important to understand the magnitude of the transaction cost of remaining in conflict.

RESULTS: Do I trust enough to be in an open, ongoing collaboration
PROTECTION: Can I get out without getting hurt? Is there an opportunity for a windfall?

Has the process produced enough trust so you can say “Let’s do it, I’m comfortable moving forward with you, and sense we’ll be able to work things out as we go forward.” Has the deep dialogue we have exchanged produced what Max DePree calls a relationship based on covenant – a heart felt connection and commitment to people and results.


A few years ago, at the height of popularity of “Self-Directed Work Teams” I was working with a government agency to implement a team environment for a unit of technical support people. The challenge was not only to create “teams,” but also to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in each member of the organization.

The critical part of a successful team environment is making sure everyone has the same vision, before moving into action. The classic “forming, storming, norming, performing” stages that teams traverse are best resolved with an agreement. The agreement serves the norming function as members of the team agree on how they will work with each other – what their norms will be. The agreement reflects the resolution of their “storming.” With some coaching help the following agreement was put in place to govern team activities.


1. INTENT & VISION: All members of “The Programmers” agree to follow the terms of this team agreement. Our vision is to be a tightly coordinated unit whose members are cross-trained in the jobs that all members of the team can do, so that any one of us could step into a client request at any moment. The specific vision we have is that we will be “self-supporting” within two years – we will generate enough revenue to cover our costs and our salaries. We will:

  • train each other in what we do;
  • become competent salespeople;
  • sell our core competencies to other government and non-government agencies;
  • become a role model for what an intrapreneurial government agency can do;
  • become qualified experts in providing programming support for the growing technology business community;
  • pool our resources so that some of us will become salespeople while others will be engaged in direct, immediate, revenue opportunities.2. ROLES: We will each become intrapreneurs; life-long learners; teammates; and a “work-family” who realize we are each essential to the others survival during a time of government and military downsizing. We realize a cooperative management team and a steady stream of new solvent clients is critical to our success.3. PROMISES: We each promise: to accept rewards on a team basis only; to give each other ongoing honest feedback on matters that impact our work and productivity; to accept that we are beginners in the realm of interpersonal communication; to devote our full time energy to the work of the team; to teach teammates what we learn when we take a training class; to come to team meetings on time; to follow the standards for team meetings we have drafted; to stay in a learning mode; to take our turn as team-leader.4. TIME / VALUE: We each agree that the potential benefits of teamship far outweigh the cost involved, and we agree to experiment with the team method of organizing work for the next two years.

    5. MEASUREMENTS OF SATISFACTION: Our measure of success will be sustainability – how long it takes to become self-sustaining. We have set a goal of 18 months to become self-supporting: revenue equals expenses plus salaries.

    6. CONCERNS AND FEARS: We are concerned that in six months a new “management” fad will be put in place, or we will be reassigned to other units and our operation will be completely shut down. We are also concerned that members of the team will leave for other departments or non-government jobs.

    7. RENEGOTIATION: We understand the importance of ongoing communication. In that spirit we see our team agreement as a living, evolving context in which we work together. We agree to keep our agreement current – we will look at it monthly to make sure it reflects the reality of what we are doing as a unit. We see “teamship” as a voluntary activity, and agree that if anyone wants to leave the team they can.

    8. CONSEQUENCES: We assume that all of us are smarter than any one of us. We agree to defer to the team to determine consequences for any violation of this team agreement. We realize that when we violate an expressed or implied responsibility of teamship, a consequence should follow. We fully understand that if we are not successful at becoming self-sustaining our unit may be disbanded and we will be left without jobs.

    9. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: We agree to the following rules: 1.) manage your own emotions; 2.) talk to the person or group you are in conflict with; 3.) ask a team member to mediate; 4.) get the entire team involved; 5.) ask the team coach for help.

    10. AGREEMENT ? : We are confident that all of us together are stronger than if we worked independently during this time of change and transition. We all take responsibility for managing the team as we rotate team leadership.

    Team members reported that they enjoyed the process, found the dialogue generated closer relationships, and that they use their agreement as a way of orienting new team members. The agreement has become a combination operations and personnel manual for the team.

    The critical part of a successful team environment is making sure everyone has the same vision, before moving into action. The classic “forming, storming, norming, performing” stages that teams traverse is best resolved with an agreement. The agreement serves the norming function as members of the team agree on how they will work with each other – what will their norms be. The agreement reflects the resolution of their “storming.”

    Agreements are a fundamental life skill we never learned when we were young. It is the primary building block for all kinds of collaborations, and working with others is the only way results, productivity and satisfying relationship happen. Try having a dialogue that incorporates the elements at the beginning of your next team project. I guarantee that from then on you will become an advocate for “Agreements for Results” in all your endeavors.

    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 next millenium. He is the author of “The Book of Agreement” and “Getting to Resolution.” He spent ten years practicing law before becoming an award winning marketing executive at AT&T where he was recognized as a pioneer “intrapreneur. ” “Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration” (Berrett-Koehler 1998) was an Executive Book Club Selection; Featured by Executive Book Summaries; named one of the 30 Best Business Books of 1998; endorsed by Dr. Stephen Covey and featured in “The Futurist” magazine. “The Book of Agreement” was just released. It has been endorsed by numerous thought leaders including Geoff Bellman; Robert Fritz; Bev Kaye; Jim Kouzes; and Harrison Owen.