Contracting – a coaching technique for high performing teams

Before my now sister-in-law came to live with us in our one bedroom flat in Brixton, my then fiancé and I agreed that we needed to take her out and agree some ground rules of how we were going to live together.

Fast forward and we are sitting in the Blues Kitchen, and my fiancé is looking at me awkwardly as we sip our drinks. I guess this one is over to me, I think to myself and with a deep breath I blurt out, “So, I think we should have a chat about how we want to live together.”

In coaching we call this contracting. It’s a technique that ensures everyone is clear on what is expected and what to do if things are not working. And it’s not a one-time only thing either, the contract is live and can be revisited at any time.

It’s a technique I highly recommend leaders try with their teams and to help, I’ve written this handy guide.

A Practical Guide to Team Contracting for Leaders

Time: 60-90 minutes depending on team size

Before the Meeting:

  • Explain that since there has been a lot of change/it’s a new team/fill in the blank, you think it’s a good idea to get together and agree how you want to work with each other so that this is a high performing team.
  • Send out the question(s) in advance for people who like time to think through their answers.
  • To save time, you might get people to put their responses in a shared document anonymously and share the collated answers in the meeting.

During the meeting:

1. Welcome and set an intention for the meeting

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  • Explain the intention for this meeting and that by the end you want a clear outline of how we all want to work with each other to be a high performing team.
  • Get agreement that everyone wants this too.
  • Ask permission to interrupt if the discussion veers away from the intention. I find it helpful to have a ‘parking lot’ where points that need to revisited are ‘parked’ until next time.
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2. Set expectations together

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  • Show the question: “What do we as a team expect from one another, to make this a high performing team for all of us?”
  • Give everyone 5 minutes to type up their answers to the first question and then paste them individually onto the white board. As the team is pasting their ideas you can start to group them and ask for clarification on anything that is not clear. OR
  • If everyone has submitted their answers previously, show the answers and give everyone 5 minutes to read, make additions and get clarification.
  • Give each person up to one uninterrupted minute to share what they are noticing or anything they think is missing.
  • After everyone has spoken invite anyone to offer any further thoughts they have. Be sure that everyone has had a chance to contribute.
  • Get agreement on expectations by asking everyone to show a thumbs up if they agree before moving on.
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Other questions you may want to explore

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  • What are encouraged and unacceptable behaviours especially, around inclusion and support?
  • What do we as a team need to do to deliver the best to our organisation, clients, customers, stakeholders, loved ones, future generations? (Intended to provoke thinking beyond the team as a way to keep in mind the wider consequence of their actions.)
  • What do we as a team need to be aware of that could get in our way? (To flush out potential blind spots and as I explain in the next point one of those might be you as leader.)
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3. What do we do when something goes wrong?

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  • This part is absolutely crucial, when we are all clear on how to raise an issue it makes it easier for them to be raised and resolved before they blow up.
  • Give each person a chance to share their thoughts on what could be done and decide as a team how issues will be raised.
  • Discuss how issues to do with you as leader can be raised. Remember even if you are ‘one of the gang’ you’re also the boss and you have influence over their career. I always tell my coachees who else they can talk to, if they are unable to raise issues with me.
  • Have people express their preference for being told about issues that relate to them, eg face to face, over the phone/video or email.
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4. Agree team logistics

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  • If you want to change your meeting culture then this is also a good time to discuss meeting logistics and etiquette.
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5. Agree when to revisit the contract

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  • Schedule checkpoints to check back in on the contract to see if it is still working. I’d also suggest re-contracting every time there is a change in membership and when the team’s purpose shifts.
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6. Commit to the contact

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  • Usually once all parties to a contract agree they sign it; my suggestion is to instead have each person, yourself included, make a commitment to the team of how they will uphold the contract.
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After the meeting

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  • Make sure everyone has a copy, screen grabs will do or have it written up and share the document.
  • Share your appreciation with everyone in the team for cocreating the contract together.
  • Monitor how the contract is going and check in on it as agreed as well as during your one to ones.
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In case you’re wondering, my sister-in-law stayed with us for 5 months and it was awesome, I cried when she left and we became so close I asked her to be my bridesmaid.

I hope you find this guide useful and I’d love to hear how it goes if you use it, or get in touch if you need clarification on the steps. I reply to every email.

If you want to find out more about how coaching techniques can help you lead a high performing team get in touch me at jude@thinkwithjude.com

My thinking was inspired by Michelle Lucas’ Contracting using four P’s, and Dr Peter Hawkins’ CID-CLEAR process for team coaching.

Want my thoughts on how to be a better leader and nurture new leaders in your inbox every Sunday?

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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