One of the most important things you can do at the beginning of any new team initiative, meeting, work project, or gathering is to design a team alliance. A team alliance is an agreement that is created and agreed to by the group about how the members want to be together.

It is the meeting agreements around behaviors AND the agreements about the kind of culture the group wants to have together. I just facilitated a Designed Alliance with a group that I will be conducting leadership training with. They had just returned from a trip where they spent a week traveling internationally together. As you can imagine, a new group of individuals suddenly in close proximity and under stressful conditions had a little conflict. The biggest feedback I got after designing our alliance was “I wish we had done this before our travels!”.

If this team had designed an intentional culture in advance of their trip, things would have been smoother. Individuals would have been clear on behaviors and expectations. The culture would have been agreed to. The team would have known what to do when things were going fine and when things got challenging. They would have been able to revisit and adjust the agreements all through the trip.

When creating a Team Alliance, the most important thing is for the group to create the list of agreements together. I might “prime the pump” by starting them off with obvious things like: “Be Present”, or “Own your opinions and be open to others’”, but the rest should come from participants. Co-creation is essential, whether you are in person with a flip chart, or virtual with a google doc or post-it notes on a white board.

Some of my favorite questions to ask to generate the Team Alliance are:

  • How do you want to be together?
  • How will you know that you have this?
  • How will you be when things are difficult?

After the design phase, I always ask for commitment:

  • Do you agree? Anything missing or need to be discussed further?
  • Will you be accountable for upholding them?

A Designed team alliance will create behavior norms, ownership for the culture of the group, and accountability if things go off the rails.

Try designing a team alliance the next time you bring a group together. You will be so happy you did!

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