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Protocol Toolkit Item: 9a


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Creating working agreements (sometimes called norms) is critical in building accountability and a foundation for a safe, collaborative, equitable space. This protocol provides a process a group can use to develop their mutually agreed-upon expectations fo


  • Chart paper/white board
  • Sticky Notes or paper on which participants can record ideas


20-30 Minutes


For this protocol, chart paper or a whiteboard will be needed to record the group’s thoughts and ideas. This protocol is best done at the group’s first meeting as it will set a tone and help develop the atmosphere and spirit the group will carry forward to subsequent meetings and work.    Different organizations use different terms to describe working agreements. The organization may use one common term, or facilitator(s) can allow the group to decide what they want to call their agreements. Some commonly use terms are:
  • Working Agreements
  • Norms
  • Social Contract
  • Safe Space
  • Team Conventions


Step 1:

Introduce Protocol Share the following information with participants:
  • The group will spend some time deciding how to BE with each other. This means that mutually agreed upon behaviors and structures will help the individuals be more productive and feel safe as essential contributors to the work.
  • Every person will get to contribute ideas, and we will come to a consensus on our ideas. Each person must agree to them. 
  • The working agreements will also be a living document, meaning participants can revisit and revise them as needed.
Note: If your group is large, it will be best to break it into smaller teams. Each team puts together its ideas and shares them with the larger group. The ideas developed in smaller teams will become part of the official working agreements of the whole group. Ideas that are the same or very similar can be grouped and synthesized into one item.

Step 2:

Brainstorm agreement ideas
  • Facilitator(s) tell the group they should now individually brainstorm ideas for the working agreements.
    • Agreements should describe how we want to be with each other, our behaviors, and our attitudes.
    • Agreements can also describe structures we want to be part of our meetings, such as an agreed-upon use of cell phones or taking breaks.
    • Working agreements should help the group work together and build a safe space for all to contribute to the work.
    • To help participants think about ideas, the facilitator can ask the following questions:
      • Think of the best meeting or group experience you’ve ever had; what made it so great?
      • Think of the worst meeting or group you were ever a part of; what contributed to it being the worst?
  • How do you want to be treated by others in this group? What do you need to feel safe in this space? How are you willing to treat others in this group?
  • Facilitator(s) should allow 5-8 minutes for participants to brainstorm their individual ideas and write them down on sticky notes or a piece of paper.
Note: If smaller teams are being used, after the individual brainstorming, the teams then share their individual ideas and create a team list of all ideas that will be shared with the larger group. Teams should combine agreements that are the same or very similar. This team should take approximately 10-15 minutes.

Step 3:

Develop Working Agreements Draft
  • Participants share their ideas as the facilitator records them on chart paper or a whiteboard.
  • Ideas that are the same or similar should be combined.
  • The facilitator may need to gather more detail or get clarification from participants to ensure the agreements are clear to all. 
    • For example, one common idea is that participants should treat each other respectfully. The idea of respect can mean something different to different people. A facilitator should ask the group, “What does it look like for someone to be treated with respect?” The responses to this question would then be part of the agreement.
    • The less vague the agreements, the better outcomes for the group.
  • After ideas are shared and posted for all to see, the facilitator(s) should review each item on the list. Participants should be invited to ask questions, seek clarification, and make revisions. There should be an opportunity to discuss each item, only moving on to the next when the group has no more to say about it.
  • A draft of the group’s working agreements is now ready.

Step 4:

Getting Consensus
    • After all ideas have been listed, discussed, and are part of the draft, the group should use a consensus-building protocol to finalize the agreements (Getting Consensus with Thumbs or Consensus-Based Decision Making).
  • All participants must support and agree to the working agreements. 
  • Facilitator(s) should allow for discussion and revisions until all participants feel comfortable and confident agreeing with all ideas listed.
  • After all participants have agreed to the group’s working agreements, remind them that as the group moves forward, each meeting will begin with a review of the agreements, and if there is a need to make any changes, the group is free to do so.
  Virtual Implementation
  • In place of chart paper or a whiteboard, facilitators should use a presentation slide or virtual whiteboard.
  • Participants can use virtual sticky notes, type their ideas into a shared document, or share them verbally as the facilitator captures them. 
  • Breakout rooms can be used if larger groups need to be broken into small teams.

Step 5:

Finalizing a poster or slide for subsequent meetings (after the meeting)
  • After a group has finalized their working agreements, the Facilitator(s) should create a final poster or presentation slide with the Working Agreements.
  • The group should quickly review the agreements at the beginning of each meeting. Facilitator(s) should ask if any changes or adjustments might need to be made.
  • If desired, the facilitator (s) can also provide each participant with their own copy of the Working Agreements.

Resources & Further Reading

Examples of Use

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