Team ground rules and working agreements

Jul 01, 2013  ·  Sandy Mamoli

What are ground rules?

Ground rules are a list of behaviours and rules a squad decide are useful for working together as a team in a productive and respectful way.

A list of ground rules is an incredibly useful tool for guiding group behaviour. They are part of establishing an environment where people can bring up difficult topics and have challenging conversations. We call this discussing the "undiscussables”.

Ground rules are also often called working agreements.

Do you have an example?

Here are one team’s ground rules:

One team's ground rules:

  • No creepy stories (i.e. Don’t let more stuff “creep” into a story than defined in the acceptance criteria)

  • Set up early for demo and prepare

  • Never ignore anything! (Such as bugs “solving themselves”).

  • We never say “no”. We say “sure, just chuck it on the product backlog. It’ll get prioritised later.”

  • Be on time for meetings!

  • Make sure everyone gets heard

Another team’s ground rules:

  • Each sprint must have a goal

  • Stay focused on the goal / top stories

  • Make sure daily goals are clear (we know the steps we need to take to achieve them)

  • We make decisions together

  • We email documentation to everyone in the squad

  • We need to show what we have done to the business people impacted, not just our product owner (when appropriate)

How do I make ground rules?

Ground rules don’t come about after having a big meeting to create them. They usually evolve over time and with the team. Most of the time a rule is added to the list when the squad solves a problem and decides to do things in a certain way.

Very often new ground rules come out of retrospectives. For example a squad might have encountered issues with some members making decisions on their own and after a discussion about how to avoid this in the future they decide to add the ground rule “We make decisions together” to the list of rules.

A team’s ground rules are specific and unique to each individual team. As they are a product of a squad’s history, context and experiences no two teams’ ground rules will be the same.

Be aware that ground rules will change over time: New rules will be added and obsolete ones will be removed. Make sure to to keep the rules a living list and to re-factor them once in a while.

How can I use them?

As the ground rules are made and owned collaboratively by the team it is each member’s responsibility to follow the agreements. We use the rules to have team members manage their own behaviour.

It is very useful to make the ground rules visible in the team area so that everyone can point out violations of the squad’s own rules and no one has to be the "Agile police".

As the Scrum Master look for situations that allow you to hold the ground rules up to the squad during the sprint. Hopefully your behaviour will influence others to do the same.

Categories: Agile Coaching.