Co-Creating Your Social Contract
– People Not Employees
The era of using people as production tools is coming to an end. Participation is infinitely more complex to practice than conventional corporate unilateralism, just as democracy is much more cumbersome than dictatorship. But there will be few companies that can afford to ignore either of them.
In a Nutshell
The social contract isn’t a business negotiation and neither is it a legal document. Instead, it is a tacit agreement between members of a group to behave in a certain way with certain privileges and duties. It’s an integral part of the concept of democracy – whether it’s a nation or a company, and by nature it’s idealistic. When people in an organization agree to work together, it’s an ideal that each of them agrees to strive towards.
If every person on the team is to perform to the best of their abilities, then the team needs to follow certain behavioral principles and guidelines. So, it’s highly important to explicitly discuss the terms of the social contract and have them condensed into an easily understandable format that everybody agrees with. There can be no room for hidden thoughts or doubts when it comes to the social contract and the only way to make sure it’s effective is to co-create the document with the entire team.
Most importantly, it cannot be a contract that’s set in stone. Instead, it needs to be a live document that members of the team can come back to, and even challenge, whenever there’s a lack of alignment. The social contract is a great tool that enables teams to deeply understand their motivations as individuals as well as groups. And that can happen only when they feel it’s safe enough to be transparent.
Co-create a social contract with the entire team and maintain it as a live document that can be revisited anytime.
When companies have a strong social contract that is open to all employees, it becomes a documentation of the kind of company culture that thrives within its walls. It comes in handy especially when a business is expanding and is looking out for new talent. Besides helping companies attract and recruit top talent, a solid social contract also makes for a smooth onboarding process. Creating a good social contract also increases the calibre of employee performance.
Get Up Close And Personal: The social contract is all about alignment of individual goals with that of the team or organization and to do that you need to really see your coworkers. Create a safe environment for employees to transparently answer questions about their personal aspirations, ideas and vision for their future. Make them talk about their dreams, financial expectations and how their contributions help further the company. Once they’ve answered these questions, have an informal session where every participant shares and interacts with the rest of the team.
Encourage Self-Awareness: Asking pointed questions that make people think about their vision for themselves and where they want to go in life is the first step. But encouraging them to put down their answers in writing holds the key to their self-awareness. When people write down answers to questions that deal with why they do what they do and where they see themselves in a few years’ time, it makes them very aware of their current role and the honest reason why they’re part of a particular team. And when people share such deep personal reflections openly with everyone else, it becomes easier to understand how complementary (or not) the team really is.
Co-Create The Document: A self-elected person should make note of all the discussions between the team members during this exercise and summarize it all in a document. This first draft of the social contract should collectively express the various key elements from the answers and team interactions. The idea is to create a collection of strong sentences that reflect the way in which people should work with each other. The social contract must be a co-created document that is forever live and accessible to the entire team. If someone finds that the team isn’t working according to the tenets agreed upon, then they can always go back to the social contract document and seek re-alignment.
When (NOT) to use it
Since it’s fundamental to Semco Style that people view coworkers as not just pieces of a puzzle but as real people with goals and aspirations, we’d advocate to revisit this practice at least once a year. Even if an entire revision of the contract isn’t in order, it’s always good to revisit the document to ensure that people are acting according to what was agreed upon and that there isn’t any misalignment.
Level to implement
Co-create the document
Maintain it as a live document
Create a safe environment for people to be open
Take a top-down approach to creating the contract
Be judgmental on the process used to develop the contract
Use it as an opportunity to blame coworkers
Helps view coworkers holistically
Integrates team on a deeper level
Helps in identifying what’s meaningful for every team member
People might feel uncomfortable to share their deepest aspirations
How should you deal with a coworker when there’s conflict? Simply ask them!
This summer, I spent an entire month interacting with our team in Amsterdam through a range of activities and exercises. The idea was to take a step back and do a deep internal alignment. One of the major outcomes of this trip was the co-creation of our social contract.
As an organization, it was important for us to reflect upon why we exist, how we plan to impact the world with our ideas, what are our main initiatives, how we prioritize and deal with them in our daily lives.
To encourage such an intense look into ourselves, we came up with a set of seven questions for all participants to answer:
- What are the strengths / skills I bring into this team?
- My Green Button: What do I need in order to perform really well?
- My Red Button: What actions of others do I dislike?
- What are the areas in which I can develop myself?
- How can you help me improve in those areas?
- What are the typical misunderstandings that people have with me?
- How should someone handle me when there’s conflict/tension/stress?
Once they answered these seven questions, all participants had to pick an image that best represented them.
We allowed about 15-20 minutes for the participants to write down their answers and to choose an image. Then, we put all the answers onto a shared Google doc and Google presentation, co-created during the course of this activity.
Each participant had an uninterrupted five minutes to present and explain their answers and the image they chose for themselves.
The first draft of the social contract was drawn from the answers people gave during this activity. The exercise helped everyone understand the key elements of working with each other. It gave everyone a chance to talk about what was important to them, what created negative feelings in them, their contribution to the team from their point of view and the places where they could improve themselves.
But the most important takeaway from this exercise was the personal roadmap on the best way to handle a person when there’s a conflict with them. With that, you’ve simply removed the need for team members to guess or find their own way to deal with someone when there’s a conflict. They now know exactly how to handle the person in question and that’s a very powerful piece of information to have.
The questions were crafted to be very clear and I think they helped the team members succinctly express what were the best ways to work with them as individuals. The whole process was done in a very informal and fun way with people being very open-minded and even cracking jokes. It was critical to ensure the team thought of the exercise as something cool. You need to be flexible about the way you conduct the exercise – a very formal, structured exercise won’t work.
At the end of this exercise, we had successfully created a rudimentary version of our social contract, made sure everyone was onboard and had multiple interactive sessions about what worked and what didn’t.