The best time to negotiate a group agreement is at the beginning of a meeting or training workshop. The purpose of a group agreement is to create an open and respectful environment in which teams can work together creatively and individuals feel safe, sharing their ideas and opinions.
Basically, a group agreement consists of statements agreed by the team and trainer that provide behavioural guidelines during the meeting or workshop. These might include: “to turn up on time”; “respecting each other’s opinions”; “providing an opportunity for all to speak”; “any discussion points or opinions remaining confidential”.
The most important thing is that the group agreement is decided by the group. As a facilitator you should setup the process and guide them in the right direction, but behavioural statements must be determined by the group only. Having the group make these decisions is more empowering than having someone else set out ‘rules’ for everyone to follow (no one likes being told what to do). Additionally, team members are much more likely to respect and follow an agreement that they are invested in and had some form of input into. This will make your job as a trainer or meeting facilitator that much easier.
During the workshop, if problems or any conflicts arise you’ll be able to stop them and refer back to the agreement set out at the beginning by the group. (e.g. We all agreed at the that we will listen to others and allow them to share their ideas…).
Creating a group agreement
There are many ways to create a group agreement. When deciding the best method to use you should consider the following: duration of the workshop and whether the team will be working together for a long time (such as project teams), whether the topic is controversial and will result in disagreements and mixed opinions, how much time you have available and whether you are working with new group and need to develop some form of trust or rapport with the team.
If you are working with a group that will be working on a long term project or working together for an extended period, it is advisable to spend a little more time developing a long term group agreement. Taking more time when deciding a group agreement can sometimes feel a little frustrating, however the more time you put into this at the start of the process will save any issues at a later date.
Detailed group agreements (Long term)
You should allow around 30-40 minutes to come up with a detailed group agreement.
When opening your workshop or meeting, ensure everyone has arrived, and begin by asking a few questions like:
- What things could we do to make sure this workshop works well? would
- How can we ensure that the learning environment is a safe and respectful place?
- What would make this room a good space for learning?
Group members can respond in a number of ways, such as:
- By calling out different ideas which are then written on flipchart paper for all to see.
- Writing their comments on post it notes or small pieces of paper and then grouped together on the wall.
- Discussing the question in pairs or small sub-groups before sharing and summarising the key points from their discussion with the whole group.
Once you have used questions to draw out different ideas from group members, be sure to go through the list one by one and discuss further to get a better understanding and further clarification. Discuss how these ideas can be used for the workshop.
Here is a quick example:
- “it’s okay to disagree with someone else’s opinion” – get the group to think about how would this work during the workshop?
You could include “… by challenging what a person says, not attacking that particular person. This allows for thought-provoking discussion and healthy debate…”
Finally, check for agreement on all the points and ensure that everyone has some form of input into the discussion.
Short group agreements (short-term)
Other methods of coming up with group agreements may be appropriate for shorter workshops or meetings. You should aim to complete this in less than 15 minutes and put the agreement on display for everyone to see – ideally have it written up on a whiteboard or use flipchart paper and have it placed on the wall.
Here are some quick ideas:
- propose a group agreement (use a basic template) then ask the group for additions and amend accordingly before agreeing;
- try an ideastorm around the topic of ‘respect’ (e.g. “what would make you feel respected and as part of the group during the workshop?”). Give them an opportunity to reflect on the question and then discuss as a whole group. Note the points down and use that as basis for agreement.
If you’re working with the group again, the agreement should be kept for use in future meetings or workshops (especially important for project teams). Each time you run a workshop or meeting with the group, you should review the group agreement and ensure that everyone is still happy with it. If there is anything needs changing, then change it. Remember this about the team and getting the best out of them in the time you have.
If you have any additions to your project teams or working groups, then take time to explain the group agreement with them and allow them to make suggestions for improvements. This can be done during the break or at the start of the workshop as an ice breaker. If they want add anything to the agreement, be sure to have a discussion with the whole group until agreed upon.
Here is a sample Group Agreement
- Everyone must be on time and prepared for the workshop.
- Everyone will be provided with an opportunity to contribute:
- Quieter members are given a chance to voice their opinions.
- The more talkative members of the team should show a little restraint and listen to others.
- Only one person is allowed to speak at a time.
- If you wish to speak you should raise your hand and wait your turn.
- We will respect each other’s opinions and ideas even if we don’t agree with them.
- Anything discussed during the workshop will remain confidential – none of this should be repeated outside of this meeting.
- Be aware of the time and any constraints – helping to stick to it, and move on when necessary
- Computers and mobile phones must be turned off during the workshop to minimise disruptions. They can only be used during breaks.
- Regular rest breaks to keep everyone focused.
Learning contracts are slightly different to the group agreement. Whilst the group agreement focusses on how a group behaves during meetings or workshops, a learning contract identifies what they need in order to have the best learning environment.
I usually do learning contracts at the start of a training workshop, especially important when working with new instructors. The learning contract allows me to set out my expectations as a trainer and what I want from them and they create their own learning contract based on what they expect from me as a trainer.
We then take around fifteen minutes to discuss these contracts before finally agreeing. It is important that both the group and trainer fully understand what each point means. If anyone is unsure, then it should be raised and clarified. Once everyone is happy and the contracts are agreed upon, then they must be signed by everyone. You sign the contract created by the group and each person in the group signs your contract. These contracts are then placed on the wall for the duration of the training event, referring back to them when necessary.
If you have any more ideas for group agreements or to share how you use learning contracts, comment in the box below.