I am researching how organisations use social contracts for highly collaborative teams and how social contracts can build and foster accountability. A social contract is basically an agreement that lays out the ground rules for people’s behaviours, how they will work together, how decisions will be made and how people will support each other and hold each other accountable.

When organisations are looking to innovate, optimise or transform, it can seldom happen without the collaboration of people. As a solution to the collaboration problem organisations often form cross functional teams expecting that change will happen through the contribution of all involved and maybe a little help from osmosis. But before that can happen the team needs to comprise of people that are willing to share ideas, bring their experience and knowledge and who will challenge the status quo. As a collective they need to understand how to work effectively together.
When cross functional teams come together, they need time to resolve different ways of thinking and doing. There needs to be a form of social contract that sets out how they will work together, what behaviours are expected and how responsibilities and accountabilities are to be managed. These things sound simple to put in place, yet it has been my experience that these are some of the more difficult things the organisation has to contend with and they are difficult to contend with for a number of reasons, including:

  1. Cross functional teams still have conflicting functional priorities that may hinder progress and commitment.
  2. Teams are often formed without consideration of alignment – ensuring all activities are delivering an enterprise wide outcome as well as a functional one.
  3. If team members have specific capabilities that the organisation regularly calls on, it can result in conflict of time allocation, responsibilities and accountabilities.

This is where a social contract can help. It outlines the ground rules for how the team will work together, expectations, how decisions are made, how information will be shared and what behaviours are expected. Many organisations create a list of guiding principles for their teams but many of these fall short on accountability expectations. An effective social contract will outline how responsibility and accountability will be handled, but more than that if done well it can support enterprise alignment and scalability.

If you use, have signed or committed to a social contract I would appreciate hearing from you and get your feedback.  Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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