Leading Change: A Story of Organisational Culture, Reward and Reprimand

Leading Change: A Story of Organisational Culture, Reward and Reprimand

This is a story from an organisation which I hated working for, but stayed for a couple of years because my then manager was a kind person and we both disliked the place equally. We were also comfortable with each other in talking about the incompetent people, who made the majority of that place and the organisational culture.

 

This place was a model organisation for all the wrong reasons. There were trust issues, toxicity, bad culture, nepotism, questionable management competence, lack of integrity, lack of empathy for employees as well as for customers among many other dysfunctions.

 

In simple words, it was a clusterfcuk. (A friend suggested that I replace it with “omnishambles”, which sounds more posh and sophisticated. Nah! doing so would dilute the effectiveness of this post. And more importantly, if I do use that fancy word, I will not be happy.)

 

Leading to win (that’s what I thought):  

At one point of time at that place, I was leading a digital transformation team. Even though the whole thing was completely screwed up, and the consultants were screwing it up even more, I am thankful for all the lessons I learned there. Plus, the bonus was that I got all the stories to share like this one.

 

The people in my team were part of the same system. Some of them were new, and  some had fused the organisation’s DNA with theirs. The environment was so bad, that all new people got influenced within weeks and became political quickly. If you don’t know how cults work, you can get an idea here.

 

Anyway, long story short. I was in the role for just a couple of months before I went for my planned leaves for about three weeks. The team was delivering the outcomes and I was doing my best to enable the achievements of those goals. I was coaching them, mentoring them and at times, holding hands to get work done.

 

Look, the problem with being too focused on your objectives is that sometimes you fail to read the room. People can be two faced and if you don’t realise that soon enough, they will do good enough damage. 

 

Airlines teach pilots situational awareness. Which is about being aware of one’s surroundings, and not just rely on the instrument. Not being situationally aware can cause trouble and that was the mistake I made too. I should have been more diligent in keeping an eye on environmental factors. It is like product companies keeping an eye out on subtle feedback coming out on Twitter and fixing problems before they become issues.  

 

Anyway, back to the story of the screwed up project and place.

 

Hoping for a reward:

 

When I returned from the leave and joined the work back, the CTO called me in his cabin.

 

The CTO was a nice person, but he wasn’t a charismatic leader and he lacked conviction (I was going to say ‘he lacked balls’, but that wouldn’t be nice, right?). His demeanor was of a person who is trying hard to stay in his job and not ruffle any feathers. But you know what, an appease-all policy makes your position weaker. In my opinion, stronger and assertive people command more respect and have better chances of staying or growing in their jobs than others.

 

So yeah, he called me for a quick meeting in his office.  

 

“Recognition time!”, I thought. 

 

Yes, you guessed it right. I was not going to get recognition. I was there for a reprimand. 

 

With a serious face, and a deep tone, he said that the team told him that Rajesh was gone, and no one noticed. It seemed that I wasn’t making an impact. And that I did not have control on the team. In his opinion, the team should have been dependent on my leadership.

 

Honestly, I felt betrayed by the team. I treated them as friends, and they behaved like grade 3 kids who tell on you to the teacher. I also felt bad that the team couldn’t see the bigger picture. They had much more freedom than other teams. 

 

So, when I replied to the CTO, he was instantly remorseful. 

 

I said, “I am actually quite happy to hear what the team said to you.”

 

He looked confused, and said, “What do you mean?”

 

I continued, “It seems that I was able to achieve my goal much earlier than expected. If the team believes that they were able to function without having someone guiding and driving them, then they have become a self-contained, self-organised team. They have learned much more about delivering innovative products than anyone else in the entire group. I know that there are many other organisations and teams that try their best to achieve self-organisation and never reach there. We should celebrate that we are doing the right thing.”

 

There was a long pause.

 

Then the CTO said, “I should have thought that, and I should have said that to the team. You are right. Sorry that I didn’t manage it well.”

 

WHOA! I never expected that I would ever hear those words. While there was no formal recognition, at least he understood what I was trying to do.


Culture change is hard: 

You might be wondering what happened next. When I tell this story to people, some assume that there was a happy ending with rewards, awards, recognitions, and a case study of organisational improvement.

 

No, nothing of that sort happened. Culture problems often have deep roots and resolving them takes time, courage, integrity, congruence, openness and willingness by the leaders first. I think it all starts with accepting that there are problems.

 

In this case too, culture problems were deep rooted.

 

To me, it was clear that trust was an issue. It was broken.

 

I did have an open discussion with the team and we discussed having honesty meetings. Someday I will write about that too. 

 

Most of the team members understood what they had achieved and that I was there to help. Yet, some of them were not onboard. They were laggards. After leaving that organisation many years ago, I came to know that the laggards were still there where they were.

 

Not long after that incident, I left that organisation. I knew that I was a square peg in a round hole. 

 

One can only try to change a system. Most of the time you can only influence a small part of a system and there is a high likelihood that this small part will go back to its old ways due to other parts of the system. 

When you try to change a system, not all parts of the system will react the same way. But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying.

 

I tried, I succeeded a little, and then I failed.

 

Change takes time. Effect of change can take even longer. And recognition and reward will not always be part of the process.

 

As change agents, we must be patient while remaining pragmatic.

I shared the team’s mistakes with everyone, then this happened…

I shared the team’s mistakes with everyone, then this happened…

A few years ago, I led a product development effort at an enterprise. We were constantly experimenting, so had our fair share of wins and failures. But I had the feeling that we weren’t learning from mistakes quickly enough.

Large organisations maintain risk registers, which usually keep details of risks and issues. We also had a risk register, but it was being treated as one of those documents created for the sake of documentation.

Frustrated, I decided to put a poster on the wall with the title “Failure log”.

Why the heck a failure log?

The team reacted differently to the failure log. Some were amused, some confused, and some annoyed.

The annoyed ones saw this as exposing their weaknesses.

The confused ones didn’t know how showcasing our mistakes was going to help the project.

Others were happy that we were taking an initiative that could not only build psychological safety, but could also help us learn from our mistakes.

My challenge was that the organisation was not very mature. It was very much a command and control environment, so having the courage to publicly admit you’d made a mistake was a bold move, and to some extent a risk.

It was a risk because the board and the management team had invested heavily in the program and they were watching our progress very carefully. It was quite possible to face unintended consequences of making mistakes. In other words, it could have been a career-limiting – or perhaps even career-killing – move.

Luckily, the Chief Product Officer I worked with was progressively minded. He encouraged and supported experiments. Plus, the Program Director and I had become friends and she supported everything I did. Both could understand my vision and wanted to be part of it.

We were like a start-up within a traditionally managed enterprise.

Many of the team members, including the Product Leads and the Innovation Manager, were itching to do more and my bold step encouraged almost everyone to step up and forward.

I started adding smaller mistakes and things on that poster that could have been improved.

The Blunder!

And then one day… it happened!

A team member mistakenly sent a test email to hundreds of customers. It was a PR and Communications disaster.

You may be wondering why a test web page was connected with a production database?

The web page was built for a fake door experiment and the idea was to expose a very small number of customers to that page.

We got through that issue… but the question around recording that mistake on the Failure Log felt almost as tough.

The team was divided on sharing an embarrassing mistake with everyone else. Specifically in an environment where we were expected to have Gantt charts, detailed project plans, roadmaps, scripted test cases, and God knows what else.

So, what did we do about sharing the mistake?

After a bit of discussion within the team, we decided to include the mistake on the Failure Log because that was the right thing to do. There was a consensus about being congruent.

What happened after taking that major step?

I was sacked… right?

No. Nothing major happened at all. We were warned to be more diligent in future. That’s it. I thank my lucky stars for that.

Lessons that I learned:

But something did happen that was major for me:

  • The team became bolder
  • The experiments we quietly discussed earlier turned into open discussions
  • More items appeared on the Failure log, which by now had become the learning log
  • More and more visitors from other departments wanted to learn from us
  • And the best of all, the cohesion and collaboration among team members (as well as with the management team) improved

Taking a bold step, and then taking another courageous step on top of that, taught us many lessons and made us a great team. We delivered value to customers, and we were more open about our outcomes. Best of all, the tea cohesion improved.

I can’t ignore the fact that the senior folks I worked with made it easier for me to take bolder steps. If executives aren’t supportive, then forget about experimenting with new ideas.

The failure log was an experiment that could have gone in any direction. It could have become a political mess, or quietly died from lack of interest.

The Incongruence of Organisational Hierarchy

The Incongruence of Organisational Hierarchy

The incongruence between facts and claims in many organisations often bothers me. One of the biggest bogus claims that I have seen is the lack of hierarchy or the flatness of an organisation. What that means is that organisations claim to have very little or no hierarchy in their organisational structure. Such claims make an organisation look modern, open and cool. The flatness of hierarchy (do you see the contradiction here?) is used as a marketing tool to attract talent. After all, who wouldn’t want to work for a company where management teams are approachable and where one doesn’t have to worry much about too many titles.

Sadly, more often than not, organisations that claim to not have hierarchical structures, have unwritten ones. Worse, some of these places have a command and control culturer where the top boss or someone else in the upper echelons control everything.

Few years ago I worked for a financial organisation that did not have many levels in their organisational structure. I was leading a digital project with a budget of few millions. What I found surprising was that the senior management team asked for so many details from projects that the monthly report was over 200 pages long. Did they read the report? I doubt that. Soon I figured out that the structure was less hierarchical because the bosses wanted to keep all the control and didn’t trust others enough to delegate. Unfortunately, that culture flowed down and made that organisation a typical command and control driven culture despite trying to be Agile in vain.

Are their any positives of a hierarchical structure?

One vendor that I can think of is that a hierarchy gives you a possibility of climbing the organisational ladder. It is easier for a company to move people one level up but adding a ‘Sr.’ to their titles. It doesn’t cost much and employees stay happy with yearly promotions. Result is that everyone stays happier.

What to do if you end up in such an organisation?

Well, it truly depends on your own circumstances. If you enjoy your work and the hierarchy does not impact you and your attitude, then you have no problem. What matters is whether you continue enjoying your work or not, and whether you have the right opportunities available for you.

However, if you feel claustrophobic in there, or if you want to climb the organisational ladder fast, then may be you need to consider other options. Again, that’s all circumstantial.

 

 

 

Anonymous feedback sucks, but we give it anyway!

Anonymous feedback sucks, but we give it anyway!

A little while ago, the team coach at one of my clients suggested that we collect feedback from the team anonymously to understand the ‘team health’. My opinion has been that you can explore and understand a team’s health by frequently talking and working with them. So, I wasn’t really in favour of gathering data anonymously, but since I had started working at that place  only a few days ago, I asked for more information. 

Turned out, the team coach, who was a nice person and was quite experienced, was actually not in favour of collecting anonymous feedback either. However, the inexperienced manager of that group truly believed that feedback should be collected that way and therefore commanded the coach to follow the process. 

I believe that most of us don’t like receiving anonymous feedback. To validate my assumption, I spoke to a number of people. However, I wasn’t entirely surprised when many of them told me that they didn’t mind providing it when asked. Some even admitted that they have exaggerated while giving feedback anonymously. Giving and receiving feedback can be daunting, however, it can be worse coming from an unknown source.

My experience is that managers who have a command and control mindset do not like transparency, conflict or challenge. They see that as confrontation and try to avoid that.

How people engage with each other, and how managers and team members give or receive feedback often tells a lot about an organisation’s culture. Correct?

I can see that you are nodding your head, most likely in agreement. Well, if you trust me enough then tell me about it.  

Let’s try to analyse the feedback given in an unidentified and unspecified manner. An easier way to analyse that is break it down.

Analysis points:

  1. Is anonymous feedback good or bad
  2. What happens when people are allowed to give feedback anonymously
  3. How do we feel when we receive anonymous feedback
  4. Criticism or critique
  5. What does good look like
A person giving feedback to another while hiding his face

Is anonymous feedback good or bad

The debate about anonymous versus face to face feedback isn’t new. In my work as a coach, consultant and sometimes as a manager, I have come across scenarios where leaders were looking for, and at times, encouraging, anonymous feedback. Their logic or assumptions often were similar. “People feel confident providing anonymous feedback and we learn what our teams actually think about the organisation or the processes or the management or all of these.”

Nonsense!! If the culture of a place isn’t conducive to openness, people will not tell the truth even in an anonymous survey.

If people in a team find it hard to offer direct honest feedback, then it is clear that the group has trust issues. Because if I trust you enough, then I’d feel confident that you would listen, pay heed and won’t mind about my feedback.

So, in general, it seems that anonymous feedback isn’t a good thing.  

What happens when you are allowed to give anonymous feedback? 

How people respond to a request for feedback largely depends on how they feel in the setting in which they are. We respond and react passively or negatively in an environment that makes us feel unsafe. That’s why the ‘feeling of safety’ matters a lot. When employees feel safe to challenge the management, they inadvertently also save their employers from a lot of trouble. When they don’t feel safe, they won’t bother telling the management that the organisation was on fire, and in some cases, literally.

In a blame culture, while some people give up hope that the management would take any actions on their suggestions; few others find the request for anonymous feedback a great opportunity to vent their frustrations. They may exaggerate situations, they may skew data by giving the lowest score for everything and they may even lie if they feel vengeful. And  why wouldn’t they? Anonymity provides them the veil to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Receiving anonymous feedback: 

Here is a scenario that you will possibly recognize.

“Hi, we need to talk”:

Your manager comes to you and says,”I have received some feedback about you from some of the team members. They think that your quality of work is poor, you delay their work by not responding on time and you arrive to work late. I’ll have to take some action if you don’t improve.”

Naturally, you are taken aback because you thought you had cordial and honest relationships with your colleagues.  You considered them your friends and you always assumed that they would approach you for any concern they had about your work. Anyways, you always believed that you produced high quality work. You have been praised for your work by the clients and this feedback did not seem to make any sense.

So, you ask,”who has given that feedback?”

Manager says, “All feedback that we receive is anonymous. We don’t want people to feel exposed or unsafe for providing information or feedback. And we also don’t want people who receive feedback to be vengeful.”

“That’s a load of bollocks!”, You feel like saying to your boss, but decide to keep this thought in the mind and don’t actually utter it. Times are tough and saying that could be a career limiting move.

Instead you mutter, “I understand that, but without knowing exactly what the issue is, I can’t accept or even take action on this feedback. Actually, I think all of that feedback is incorrect. If you tell me who’s provided this feedback then I will work with them to fix things.”

Of course you never get that information.

The problem in the above scenario is that you don’t have any specific information. The feedback was vague, you didn’t know who provided that. You also don’t know whether your boss misunderstood what your colleagues said about you or whether they all were truly two-faced people. If you have a weak manager, then the first thing that comes to your mind is whether your boss was making up all that feedback. 

Whatever the case maybe, now you have a dislike and distrust of almost all your team members and also your boss. The damage has been done.

Criticism vs critique:

Criticism is always an attack on someone’s person. When you give critical feedback, you’re talking about that person and how bad they are. However, when you critique, you talk about an attribute of a person, and not the person.

Brene Brown says this about anonymous feedback:

“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

What does good look like?

The good looks like working in a culture where people feel safe speaking out, respect is a common behaviour, the management folks are open and honest in accepting mistakes and failures and actively ensure that their teams do the same by encouraging them.

I worked with few such teams (I have yet to see an ideal organisation) where people openly expressed their opinions and views. The leaders there created a culture where we felt safe to debate and challenge in an honest, healthy and respectful way.

In an environment like this, team members as well as managers can offer genuine and meaningful feedback in a supportive way. There you talk like mature people. And that not only helps the individuals to grow, but also helps their teams and organisations to stay on course. These cultures also encourage frequent and just in time feedback instead of waiting for a quarter of a year to deliver bad news.

Using Kudos Cards to Recognise and Motivate Your Colleagues

Using Kudos Cards to Recognise and Motivate Your Colleagues

We’re living in a world where economy has been constantly affected due to one thing after another. There have been natural calamities such as floods, Bush fires, typhoons, earthquakes and as if those things weren’t enough, we are now dealing with a virus that doesn’t seem to stop creating havoc. 

A suffering economy means that people’s livelihoods have been affected. Mostly in an unfavourable way unfortunately. That also means that our motivations have taken a hit too.

Those who are still working might be dealing with anxiety, stress and panic and they may not even know about it. In such circumstances where people are dealing with heightened emotions, keeping their motivation high becomes difficult and even more important. 

What can we do so that we can help our colleagues, peers and friends motivated?

The Factory School of Thinking for Reward and Recognition:

Traditionally, organisations have been using monetary awards for rewarding or recognising employees. The old school thinking has been that if someone has demonstrated good behaviour, or has done some good work, offer them some money and they will be happy. The management also believed that if one person got a reward, that would motivate others as well.

Contrarily, the monetary awards often made a situation worse. That created a rift among employees. It seldom happens that everyone celebrates one person’s success. In some cases, one person’s win is also seen as everyone else’s loss.

We humans have tendencies to laugh at others’ misery. Don’t believe me? Remember the last time you laughed at someone who slipped and fell. That might even be in a TV show. Schadenfreude is a real thing unfortunately.

What Should Companies Do? 

Motivating employees and keeping their morals high is not an employers job only. Since we are all in these troubled times together, each one of us has to do our bit to improve our work practices, keep our work enjoyable and keep our colleagues in high spirits. 

How do we do that?

There is a simple and effective way of doing that and that is called Kudos cards! These are also known as Hero cards but let’s stick to ‘Kudos’.

Paraphrasing Management 3.0, Kudos cards are a written and public expression of appreciation and recognition of a team member for something that has contributed to the team.

As an employer, what you can do is either buy a deck of cards for your teams or provide them with a virtual or online version of Kudos cards. That would be a very little expense for a large gain. 

Kudos Cards: An Effective Way to Increase Intrinsic Motivation:

Jurgen Appelo is the creator of Management 3.0 methodology, which is a way of modern management thinking. This is what Management3.0 says about Kudos cards

Kudo Cards are simple cards that play the role of a physical token of appreciation. The cards can be placed in a box, and every now and then the Kudo Box is emptied and the workers celebrate those who had received a card.

Kudos cards are simple notes that focus on one and only one attribute. For example, they may show “Well Done”, “Thank You”, “Great Job”, “Congratulations”, “You’re Awesome” etc. Who wouldn’t love being recognised as a badass by their colleagues?

In their physical form, they look like this:

If you and your colleagues work remotely, consider using an online version of these cards. These cards are available for free download from the Management 3.0 website. There are several other websites that allow you to do it for free or for a small fee, for example Kudoboard (https://www.kudoboard.com/).

If you use Trello, Microsoft teams or Slack, they can also be very effective tools for Kudos.

One of my teams created a separate channel in Slack for Kudos and another one used Microsoft Teams Planner for that purpose. In fact, I found that using Slack was a fantastic idea considering that it was constantly in use. 

You can also create your own card in PowerPoint or other drawing tools. The idea is that since the receiver feels appreciated, it is highly likely that they would prefer keeping the card as a memoir. In one of my teams, we used to stick the physical cards to the wall (please see the photo). However, some people decided to take them home because they were proud of their achievements and wanted to show the cards to their friends and family. Isn’t that nice?

Why use Kudos cards: 

I have been using kudos cards for a while now and what I have experienced is that when team members do recognition of each other, the feeling is much more stronger and the positivity lasts longer. It is completely opposite to what I have observed with management rewarding employees on special occasions.

When team members recognise each other, they feel appreciated. They believe that the recognition is honest because that is based on the work or the deed they have done. It is all fact based. Another good thing about mutual recognition is that they don’t have to wait for a ceremony. There is no need for a quarterly or annual function. Employees take care of their own happiness.

Some observations about when to use Kudos Cards:

First of all a word of caution. Don’t use Kudos cards too much because then they’ll lose effectiveness. Also, you should only give a kudos card to someone who has done something right in terms of contribution and you really want to recognise their effort. These cards are for genuine and honest recognition. Without honestly they are worthless.

What I have experienced is that each team creates their own timeline, space and frequency for recognising each other’s work. 

In one of my teams, they used Scrum events like Sprint Review and retrospectives for recognising their colleagues. Another one decided to use every possible opportunity to use them. It totally depends on the team.

Luis Goncalves has written a post about how Agile teams can use the cards in Retrospectives. Read it here.

What might be useful for a team is add something about Kudos cards or regularly recognising team members in their social contract. If you do not know how to create a social contact or a working agreement, visit this page. Since teams do or should refer to their social contract frequently, that should remind them of using the cards regularly.

In conclusion, I believe that Kudos cards are a very effective way of appreciating your colleagues. These cards help improve team bonding, generate positivity, enhance collaboration and peer to peer relationship. There’s no rule for not using them for recognising your boss or an employee through them, but you’re the best judge for their usage and your context. In difficult times, we have a responsibility to support our colleagues and peers. Why not use Kudos cards for that.

If you have used Kudos cards effectively, let me know by adding a comment. 

How to create a social contract that works

How to create a social contract that works

Good Agile teams are self- organising where all ideas matter, everyone contributes and everyone is heard! 

For becoming a high-performing and self-organised team, a lot depends on how team members work together and how good of a shared understanding they share. In complex Agile working environments, it is not easy to rely only on technical skills and attention should be paid on creating cohesion. This is where social contract comes into picture.

 A social contract (also known as working agreement) allows Agile teams to define and agree on the acceptable and non-negotiable behaviours.

 In this post, we’ll look at following points:

  • What is a social contract or a working agreement?
  • Why do you need a social contract?
  • Who creates the Social contract?
  • How and when to create a Social contract? 

What is a social contract or a working agreement

A social contract is not a legally binding agreement. Instead, it’s a socially binding one. What that means is that each person in a team agrees and adheres to certain behaviours that the team mutually creates. Social contracts are unique to a team because each team has people with different personalities, idiosyncrasies and objectives.

Below is an example of a social contract: 

 You can also add other, more specific topics in your social contract. One of our contracts included these:

  • No open laptops in meetings
  • Meetings are not scheduled between 3-5 PM
  • No mobile phone in meetings or team discussions
  • Update cards daily on the wall (later we edited that to include MS Teams and Jira)

An important point to note is that social contracts should not be created and used as a box ticking exercise. Instead, they should be adhered to and revisited as often as required. If you’re a physically co-located team, place the agreement somewhere where it is visible to everyone. If you’re all working remotely, make it a part of your shared area where it is easily accessible and visible.

Why do you need a social contract

 Long time ago, we had a developer in our team who used to disappear during the mid-day when most of the teams were on lunch break and used to return after nearly an hour and half. Not only that, he used to leave early to pick-up his child from the day care centre. It was a concern for most because there was enough dependency on this developer and his unavailability was affecting others.

What would you do if you were being affected in this team?

Our team decided to use the social contract to remind everyone of their commitments.  In one informal meeting (it’s important to note that such discussions are more effective when not done in a formal setting), while chatting with each other team members asked him about this developer’s long breaks. It turned out that he was utilising his lunch break for visiting a gym and wasn’t aware that others were being impacted by his absence.

Because of a social contract where all were free to respectfully share their views, we were able to avoid what could be a difficult discussion.

What I have experienced is that social contracts help build psychological safety, openness, shared understanding, trust, congruence and a sense of accountability.

Who creates a Social contract?

Many teams have their social contracts created by someone in the management or the human resource (I guess calling it People & Culture is better) teams. Well, that’s not how a team contract should be created.

 For a team to become self-organising in a real sense, it is important that they define their own ways of working and guidelines. When the team creates their own standards, they will own it and will be committed to it. Creating and owning something collectively also helps teams establish better relationships with others.

  

How and when to create a Social contract?

A team should create a social contract when it is forming. However, many teams constantly grow and there may not be a single, common beginning for all team members. In that case, the core team or the group of people who join the team in the beginning should create a social contract. This core team should also ensure that every time a new team member joins them, they are given a walkthrough of this contract by other team members. They should also feel safe in reviewing and contributing to this contract. If that happens, the social contract will work in favour of the team.

 

Tips on how to create a social contract:

  • Get together as a team. If teams are located remotely, ensure people are able to turn their videos on. For such an important discussion, it is vital if team members can see each other.
  • Collectively choose someone who can facilitate the discussion. Social contract discussion can generate debates and having a good facilitator will help everyone stay on track. A facilitator will also help in ensuring that all get a chance to speak up. The facilitator does not have to be a delivery leader, a scrum master or a coach.
  • You may ask each team member to write what they expect from everyone in the team
  • If the team is located remotely, use a tool like Whiteboard Fox or Miro to collect ideas.
  • As a team, decide what common behaviours the team accepts as a minimum. 
  • Agree on what are non-negotiable behaviors.

Social contracts are mutual agreements and they should be enforced by the team. They are not pretty posters that teams use to appear Agile. These agreements are to build trust and to reinforce the feeling that a team is empowered and is in control. They also show that the team does not need to be controlled or commanded by someone in the organisational hierarchy.

It is also worth noting that these agreements do not replace organisational policies. Those policies are the boundaries within which teams function. Instead, working agreements are there to enhance the cultural aspects of an entity.

Do you have a social contract with your team? What is your experience from using it? 

Additional reading: 

If you are curious about the term Social contract and where it came from, a good starting point is Wikipedia. It is quite interesting too.

Although not directly related to Agile delivery, the text on Wikipedia speaks about the social contract theory or model as defined in moral and political philosophy.  One can argue that the statement below indirectly applies to how we behave in teams: 

“Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order.” 

To learn more about the Social Contract Theory, visit these links:

https://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont

https://politicalsciencelessons.com/social-contract-theory-by-thomas-hobbes/

https://www.reference.com/world-view/thomas-hobbes-social-contract-theory-1c0d40a2e08398e2