3 Reasons Agreements Get Derailed: Tales of Team Conflict

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Your team has outlined your change effort process, including team agreements. You’ve done a great job building strength, common purpose, and cohesion within your team. Everyone bolts out of the conference room with Super Bowl energy, pumped-up for success!  Yet … three weeks into implementation it’s already apparent that the team is woefully behind on its first accountability goal. What happened to the agreements that everyone signed-off on?

Phillip Sandahl of Team Coaching International explains it best, that the “team is a system—a living system ... These human systems are naturally dynamic. They grow and change; they adapt to changing conditions. They are inherently messy, chaotic, and need to be.”  

Leading a team to come together in agreement is no small feat. And implementation can be the most difficult part of any agreement. As long as you have humans involved - people with different personal experiences, styles, points of view, trust or respect levels - there will likely be behaviors that are “messy,” bring “chaos,” and slow down or even derail implementation completely.  

In our work as Conflict Advisors, we work closely with teams on their dynamics to support and position them to make agreements worth keeping. Our experience has shown us how important a strong team is to any change effort.

Here are 3 reasons why your team’s agreement implementation might be getting derailed on its way to change.

Changing behavior takes time. A shift in behavior after the agreements have been completed can happen in any team, particularly one that has just engaged in a facilitated, thorough team-building process. Let’s say the team just had an amazing time, experienced some interpersonal breakthroughs, and felt great rapport with each other. Agreements were made, everyone’s feeling super and ready to start - nine on a scale of zero-to-ten! Yet, when they get back to their desks on Monday morning, that score might be lower as reality sets in and work begins. Later in the week, an old behavior of one team member triggers a negative reaction in another. Soon the high scores upon which the agreements were made aren’t there to actually accomplish those agreed-upon pieces. Your team may need added, ongoing support, and your agreements may need tweaking.

There may be some unresolved issues that “muddied” the agreement-setting process.   This outcome is typically caused by unresolved conflicts within the team - underlying interpersonal disagreements, conflict hooks, or trust gaps. The golden key to a high-performing team is: Trust. This might be the first place you want to look. When trust is broken within a team, members tend to feel less safe, less motivated, less likely to believe in the project and its success. Caught early on, the team can come together again, in a facilitated environment, toward resolving the issues that will allow for new, or modified, agreements which will actually stick. If the conflict is between individuals, your HR Professional or an outside Conflict Advisor may be brought in to meet with them and sort out the issues. Read this if you would like to know more about what these situations can look like, and how conflict can be diffused in the hands of the professional.

There’s a need to re-prioritize agreements, or the underpinning of making those agreements.  During the agreement-making phase, let’s say the team decides that accountability is a key dynamic to work on as a team. Outcomes of this work are positive, and agreements are made that everyone can enthusiastically buy into.

However, they might have decided not to work on the trust and vulnerability aspects: “Let’s put that trust thing off, and let’s work on accountability because that’s one we can all talk about.” Do the trust issues go away when the change effort starts? No, in fact they may be slowing down the team’s ability to implement effectively, because if the team doesn’t trust each other sufficiently to take action, then the accountability piece can’t be achieved. There is a misalignment of prioritizing the elements to success as a team.

What is a leader to do?

Again, as long as you have a dynamic “living system” there is no silver bullet for perfect team behavior or production - and you wouldn’t want it any other way! You attracted the best talent to bring their expertise, ideas, creativity and other strengths to the table. Awareness that these three (and more) dynamics can alter the original agreements your team made, is a great start to becoming attentive to your team during the implementation process to ensure the greatest chance of success.  

Resologics is soon to launch a real-time measurement tool for teams. We work with the natural rhythm of the team and organization to make sure that agreements are being implemented, change (or no change) is being seen, and that higher performance is being accomplished. If you’d like to talk more about this powerful tool, please feel free to schedule a conversation with us here.


Mark Batson Baril

Mark is a conflict advisor and ombudsman for organizational teams. If you would like to contact Mark please e-mail him at mark@resologics.com

Resologics provides conflict advising services to organizations to help them avoid disputes, optimize team dynamics for better outcomes, and reduce costs. The resologics team can be reached at 800.465.4141 | team@resologics.com | www.resologics.com