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How to Build Culture Through Collective Agreements

Collaborative Agreements to Build Culture Images 3
By Gilmara Vila Nova-Mitchell

Your organization’s culture dictates how people behave as they collaborate, so it’s important to set a productive tone by establishing common values. We can do that via a collaboration tool called Collective Agreements, which helps build culture and maintain a healthy workplace. Bonus: A truly beautiful piece of this practice is that it supports team members in becoming more self-aware as they collaborate and show up in a way that elevates time spent together.

Before we go further into how to apply this tool, let’s look at how we got here: A couple weeks ago, Dr. Teresa Peterson introduced the idea of Collaborative Commitments as your new “relationship superpower.” I really love that, especially because we know collaboration is so important to our work and our lives. For that reason, this month, our goal is to take a deep dive into collaboration and explore how we can all get better at it.

Dr. Peterson defined Collaborative Commitments as a series of questions or sentence starters to guide your team as you plan how you’ll work together, especially when starting something new. She offers the perspective that it’s “like a proactive level-setting that will set you up for success, which is so much better than being in reactive/repair mode.”  

Today, I want to take that idea one step further with what I like to call the Collective Agreements Tool. Why is this important? Because I love building high-functioning teams! I believe that people are essential to an organization’s success, but in order to offer their best, people need to first feel safe, respected, and valued. (It all comes back to culture, after all.)

Collective Commitments are a bit different than Collaborative Agreements because we’re talking specifically about values we want to uphold as a collective and less about what we need as individuals to thrive in a team environment. To help understand the difference, let’s explore Collective Agreements in more detail:

When a team is getting formed, I usually get them together and ask: “What is important for you to have present as we collaborate?” Together we brainstorm a list and then vote for the top five or six agreements that we want to keep. 

Every time we meet, we start by sharing the Collective Agreement list and asking each team member to identify the one they want to focus on during that meeting. Everyone monitors their own behavior and how they keep their actions aligned with the particular agreement they have selected. Over time, this practice primes our brains to consider the agreements when we are in each other’s presence, creating a productive team culture. Oftentimes, when I ask team members to identify the agreement they want to focus on that day, they expand on the reason they are going to focus on that particular agreement, giving me insight on their mental and emotional state as we come together. 

Collective Agreements are like the unwritten rules that guide how team members interact, communicate, and collaborate. Here’s why they’re important:

  1. Transparency: Agreements provide clarity on what is expected within the team. They define what is acceptable and what isn’t, reducing confusion and potential conflicts.
  2. Alignment: They help align the team members’ expectations and actions. When everyone understands and commits to the agreements, it creates a sense of shared purpose.
  3. Productivity: When people feel safe, and know what to expect we spend less time dealing with misunderstandings, and frustrations and more time focusing on the task at hand.
  4. Trust: When we know what to expect from each other, we tend to feel more confident in our interactions and collaborations.
  5. Respect: Agreements promote mutual respect. They ensure that team members are heard and valued. 

Here is an example of a set of Collective Agreements a team I work with regularly uses:

  • Be real & vulnerable
  • Change your mind
  • Treat listening as sacred
  • Disagree often
  • Offer grace
  • Give credit where credit is due

By using tools like the Collective Agreements, instead of leaving our team’s culture to chance, we work intentionally to set the tone. 

Have you used a tool like this in your organization? What was your experience? I’d love to hear from you.


Gilmara Vila Nova-Mitchell
Leadership Coach at Sarah Noll WIlson, Inc. | Website

Gilmara Vila Nova-Mitchell has been helping organizations and leaders become more effective and inclusive through her engaging diversity and inclusion professional learning sessions, leadership development programs, and equity & cultural proficiency coaching for almost two decades.

Gilmara has worked with HR managers, chief diversity officers, and other leaders to create more inclusive work environments. Gilmara has collaborated with organizations from the private and public sectors in various industries. Gilmara has supported organizations to develop strategic plans, create equity-driven monitoring tools, create inclusive cultures, and learn about equity-driven leadership.

Born in Brazil, Gilmara moved to the United States in 2001. She holds a Bachelor of Multicultural Education from FUMEC University (Brazil) and an MSE in School Counseling from Drake University. Gilmara has focused on her doctoral studies in Organizational Behavior with a focus on trust in the workplace.

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