Creating agreement for success, part 1A

Creating agreements for success is also at the heart of effective relationships, which are crucial to effective projects, teams, and organizations.

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Ph.D., Organization Development Psychologist

Contracting for the impact we want to make

Effective leaders need followers to execute strategies and tactics to accomplish their visions and goals. Too often, misunderstandings and miscommunications hamper effective execution, and good contracting can prevent these situations from happening.

Contracting is building explicit agreements of shared understanding that satisfy all parties. Such agreements prevent the upsets of unmet expectations and thwarted intentions that waste time and energy. The most effective contracts are dynamic and iterative and change as circumstances and need change.

There are three areas of concern. They are the same areas as the three keys of Conscious Use of Self: intention and the impact we want to make, the connections we need, and the egos we need to manage. This article will cover building agreements for the impact we want to make.

Intention involves being clearly explicit about the outcomes we want. When the CEO says, “We want to be the best,” everyone nods their heads. But does everyone have the same idea about what “the best” looks like?

Or a manager says to an underperforming employee, “You’ve got to do better,” and the employee says they will. But does “better” mean the same to the employee as the manager?

In both cases, the answer to either is likely to be no. The parties will only have assumed what was meant in contrast to what was understood. In either case, if they are not on the same page, the “agreement” is a mirage and likely to become a conflict.

Agreements are best all parties to the agreement would describe intended outcomes the same way. Outcomes that are observable or measurable can tell us when we have succeeded. We need that level of explicitness to know when we have a valid agreement.

As an example, we’ll use the case of Hiram Baines. He was the lead executive of a major hospital system and asked me to help with his strategic plan. The plan had been in place for six months with little progress toward implementation, and Hiram wanted to know why.

He had invested a lot of time in developing the plan with his team to become the #1 hospital in their tri-state area. I interviewed each team member. Half of the executives were lukewarm about the goal. Of those who liked the goal, there were differing ideas about what success would look like.

Hearing that, Hiram was upset. He had assumed there was an agreement about the goal and the plan to get there. He had seen several head nods, and he took the silence of others as consent. Silence, however, most often means just the opposite. But no one wanted to risk speaking against his plan, and that was a problem all by itself.

After some pointed coaching, he got over his upset and agreed to another retreat to redevelop the plan with a mind toward being more explicit. We took the first two days to work through all the team’s issues with Hiram.

The second day, they crafted a new, more specific goal of becoming the #1 trauma center in the tri-state area within three years, as measured by US News and World Report. Only some were totally happy, but we got to a strong consensus that took us little time to establish.

Consensus decision-making has the reputation of being time-consuming; it is, however, the decision-making process of choice for getting two explicit agreements that will optimize buy-in. And it need not be time-consuming if we follow the steps we will cover in the next article, part 1B.

In the daily activity, we don’t spend enough time making sure that our agreements are both explicit and understood the way we understand them. When we do, the probability of effective execution increases.

Creating agreements for success is also at the heart of effective relationships, which are crucial to effective projects, teams, and organizations. We cover that in Part 2 of this series. Part 3 will cover agreements for effective ego management to keep us from continuing to get in our way.

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., has been an organization development psychologist for 45 years. He consults with organizations of all types, including Google and Genentech, among others. He has taught at major universities, including Johns Hopkins and American. For more information, you can contact him at or

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