Developing Shared Agreements

Credits Chris Michael Last Updated 2016-03

When working with adults, the facilitator has the great importance of recognizing everyone’s experience, expertise and autonomy. To help establish working agreements as to how the group should best collaborate and work together, you can crowd-source agreements, rather than prescribe them as ground rules. Though these are often referred to as “ground rules,” we place importance on the term “shared agreements.”

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We all have been through those painful meetings where one person talks over others or people are having distracting side conversations, right?

Note to participants that your role as a facilitator is to help the group maximizes its time in order to reach its shared objectives. Along the way, your job is to keep activities on track and on time, making sure everyone is fully engaged and participating in the ways they are most comfortable.

Building Shared Agreements

Since it is their time, ask participants what agreements would they like to make to each other for the benefit of the group and of the gathering. Naturally, a few will come up, such as no talking over other people or no phones; however, you should plan the ultimate list in advance so you can fill in any gaps that may not arise from within the group.

Once you have a full list assembled, including any essential agreements from your own list, ask everyone to raise their hand if they agree with the final result — review each agreement one by one, and take your time. If there are any dissenting voices, facilitate a conversation where perspectives are heard and adapt agreements accordingly as the group desires.

Utilizing Shared Agreements

Hang the final list of agreements prominently on a wall that everyone can see, and keep them up for the duration of the event. Ask participants to determine what the consequences will be if one breaks an agreement (ex: someone who breaks an agreement could go last in line for lunch, have to dance or sing to the group for 30 seconds, or clean up the room at the end of a session).

Once you have the shared agreements, you will be able to refer to them to celebrate great behavior, and likewise if disruptive behavior becomes a problem. Instead of focusing on the individual, you can reference the agreement to start a conversation with the group. If issues persist, you may want to talk to disruptive participants in private to see if they’re aware of their behavior and can commit to correcting it.

Guidelines for Shared Agreements

To facilitate your own discussion with the group on shared agreements, note that they should address the following general themes:

  • Tardiness, and what time sessions start and end
  • Paying attention during sessions
  • Security of everyone in the training
  • No checking email or posting to social networks during sessions
  • Turning off mobile phones or setting them to silent
  • How participants should indicate they have questions
  • How everyone treats each other during sessions (with respect)
  • Ensuring full participation from everyone