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Social Contracts Facilitate Team Commitment

| by Shane Hastie Follow 23 Followers on Dec 11, 2009. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Formalised social contracts provide a structure to help reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt associated with organisational change, and can enable an Agile transition to go more smoothly. 

A number of commentators have written about the importance of social contracts, especially in these turbulent times when the potential of layoffs looms large. 

Israel Gat wrote about the social contract he published while overseeing the Agile rollout at BMC Software.  He makes the point that:

The agile team goes through psychodynamics similar to those of the combat unit when it expects "casualties" in the form of forthcoming layoffs. A record-breaking Scrum implementation 12 months down the road is not too meaningful for an employee who suspects he or she might not be with the company in six months. Under such circumstances, you must satisfactorily answer the question on the minds of employees, "What is in this agile rollout for me?!" Agile team dynamics are likely to be jeopardized unless this question is answered

 He published the following social contract within the organisation:

Team, my overarching organizational objective is to preserve our team and its institutional knowledge for our corporation and its customers for years to come. We will achieve this goal by enhancing our software engineering prowess to the level that the resultant benefits will outweigh the repercussions of the current financial crisis. The state of the Agile art should enable us to attain hyperproductivity, which will serve as the best antidote to layoffs. In the event that we fail to accomplish hyperproductivity and our assignments fade away, you will find the Agile skills you developed much in demand in the market. Whether you will or will not be with the company in the future, I acknowledge your need to develop professionally as Agile practitioners and commit to invest in your education/training.

Ryan Martens also wrote about the Agile Social Contract, providing a framework for the organisational and team changes needed when making an Agile transition.

 

With a clear Agile social contract, the entire organization can follow a very simple, step-wise adoption process to successfully adopting agility beyond the team level. This process and its success are in your hands. Your Agile Social Contract binds you to commit to all it entails. In return, you will reap the benefits of Agile you had contracted to your organization, the stakeholders, and the teams

Gat concludes his article by identifying the following benefits that having an explicit social contract bring to the Agile transformation:

  1. It legitimizes discussions of a taboo topic (layoffs).
  2. It reduces fear while increasing hope.
  3. It focuses the team on becoming better at agile.
  4. It is a hard proof point to the folks in the trenches that the executive in charge is one of them. This is a most critical aspect in the executive-employee relationship in software companies.

How have social contracts been implemented in your organisations, and do they help make an Agile transition go smoother?

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