Creating agreements for success, part 2

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

Contracting for healthy relationships

How well a leader accomplishes their intended goals and strategies depends on the quality of the connection among the system members. As important as healthy relationships among team members are, this area needs to be addressed more often.

Many organizations talk about being team-based, and they actually are. Yet, many struggle with issues of team effectiveness because leaders pay little attention to the health of team relationships.

Leaders reward individuals solely for their technical success. Success at leading or building effective teams often needs more recognition. A major error since problems in the relationship between team members are the primary cause of teams failing to accomplish their goals.

Process improvement strategies such as “Lean” or “Six Sigma” are fine analytical tools. However, they will fail if unhealthy relationships bedevil the teams that will implement the strategy.

A research and development team struggling over their industry-standard evaluation process asked me to see how I might be helpful. From doing interviews, I discovered the problems were not with the process. The problems stemmed from two team members that seemed determined to disagree with anything the other said.

Of course, other team members had busied themselves taking sides! As we surfaced and resolved the relationship issues within the team, agreement around the evaluation process was easy to accomplish.

Below are five agreements to seek that can support healthy relationships in human systems:

  1. All members agree on the intended outcome goals of the system, along with the strategies and roles needed to achieve them.
  2. All members agree to support each other consistently and proactively and to prevent any member from failing.
  3. All members agree to speak candidly and freely about ways to improve the system’s effectiveness and health.
  4. All members agree to greet diversity with curiosity rather than judgment. And to support learning from differences rather than contention and unnecessary conformity.
  5. All members agree to give and receive the feedback necessary for the system and its individual members to stay on track toward the system’s goals.

Even in our personal lives, we often take for granted the quality of our connectedness with our significant others, children, siblings, parents, and friends, only to find that we’ve grown apart when we may need their support the most.

At work or at home, we pay a high price in unhealthy relationships. We could have avoided such dysfunction by establishing and maintaining the agreements described above. If you find yourself hesitant to seek such agreements, ask yourself which is more important: your reluctance or your relationships?

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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