Creating an accountable group for a mutual relationship

Adapted for small groups from discussion to collaboration efforts from Agile practices. For more in-depth and long-term social contracts, we recommend Social Contract from our friends at Red Hat Innovation Labs or The Agile Executive.

What is a social contract?

A social contract is an agreement among members of a group (society, community, project team, developers…) to cooperate towards the same goal and create a mutual relationship.  Historically, social contracts have been around as long as philosophy in human history. And, gained popularity in the 16th-18th centuries in establishing the origins of government. The theory has been adapted for collaborative learning and problem-solving communities to establish the “ground rules” for working together.

Social contracts are typically developed with the entire team involved in order to have all voices heard and agree upon the most important factors. However, if you are a facilitator of a small group for a short-term session, it is recommended that you use this as an opportunity to set high-level ground rules for accomplishing the goals of your session.

Why use a social contract?

  • Quick means to clearly determine team dynamics and expectations
  • Promote autonomy and self-governing of team behavior
  • The contract keeps the team consciously aware of how they work together
  • Establish empathy and context for future conversations between team members

Impact of a social contract can:

  • Legitimize discussions on difficult topics
  • Reduce fear while increasing hope
  • Honor and respect all participants at the table
  • Build bridges between executive leadership and employees
  • Allow for fruitful exchanges
  • Equalize the group and provide ownership and accountability

What we recommend for a small group session

As a facilitator, or with your key stakeholders of the group, begin to prepare for your session by:

  • Set your goals and key intentions for your session
  • Determine your top three to five “ground rules”
  • Make sure that your ground rules are:
    • Equitable for all participants
    • Honor and respect all at the table
    • Allow for all voices to be heard (be inclusive)
    • Respect the time of all parties at the table (e.g. put down your phones)

As a facilitator, at the beginning of your session:

  • Review the social contract with all present
  • Post your social contract (if you can) for all to see. Transparency is key for accountability and ownership of self-governance.
  • If you cannot print your social contract for posting, write them on post-it notes and post where all can see them.

Printable Copy

For license and use information:

Jen Kelchner and LDR21 LLC

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