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What is a Team Agreement?

Team alignment is critical when working together toward a common goal. When Detroit Labs project teams come together to build a product, the greatest question becomes: How are we going to work together to make this happen? 

With lots of autonomy on our teams, it becomes necessary to lay the groundwork for how the team will work together. That’s how Team Agreements were introduced to our project teams.

Team agreements help spell things out specifically and serve as the foundation for the team. The purpose and utility is to be explicit and detailed to ensure that the team is aligned from the start; as a living document, a team agreement can be referred back to when questions (and sometimes conflicts) arise.

Team Agreements are generally started as soon as a project team is formed, or as soon as a project kicks off, and involve engaging the entire project team in the process. If you’re already on a project team, however, it’s never too late to start conversations about a Team Agreement.

Elements of a Team Agreement 

Below are some of the main elements of a Team Agreement on a Detroit Labs team. Note that it’s not limited to these sections — do what works best for your team and your project. 

Project Summary

A project summary usually kicks off our team agreements, typically including information about the project type, duration, project estimates, deliverables, etc. Any information that your team deems important about a project would be included here. 

Team Composition 

The team composition section helps define who will be on the team: number of developers, delivery leads, designers, quality engineers, etc. This section also serves as a place to help create more definition around what each role is responsible for on the project. 

Tools & Processes

The tools and processes section lays out what tools will be used on the team. For example, defining tools for source control, work management, etc. 

This section also defines what processes will be implemented on the team. These can be things like demo planning, testing strategies, cadence meetings, and even what the definition of ‘done’ means on the team. 

Work-Life balance

Work-life balance is one of our favorite parts of a team agreement. Since our teams have lots of autonomy, this is where teams can agree on things like core hours and communication channels. Other elements that Detroit Labs teams like to incorporate into this section are:

  • Defining what it looks like to reach out for help when you need it
  • Expectations of a great team member (restating what is in the Detroit Labs handbook) 
  • Tying personal/professional goals to the project and defining how each team member will use this project to grow 
  • What giving and receiving feedback on the team looks like
  • Personal challenges and what we need from each other (e.g., “Here are some things you should know about me…”)

A Team Agreement is a Living Document

The team has been formed, you’ve created a Team Agreement, and…now what? 

It’s easy to fall into treating a Team Agreement as a task list item and placing it on the shelf once it’s complete. Team agreements are living, breathing documents that require accountability from all team members to adhere to and revisit regularly. One way our teams at Detroit Labs ensure that the Team Agreement remains updated is through holding periodic team retrospective meetings — if action items related to a team agreement come out of a retro, the agreement is updated and changes are communicated to the team. Detroit Labs teams also revisit a Team Agreement whenever new people join the project team taking time to make revisions, capture anything that may have been missed, or remove anything that’s not working for the team.  


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.