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Why use a Group Agreement?

Written on 03/23/2020
Brian Brandt

Definition: Group-generated, agreed-upon "rules" or guidelines that help reduce conflict, create an optimal learning environment, and build team success.

Explanation: Group agreements are a tool that can be used to encourage group members to exhibit positive behaviors, create a sense of belonging, and ensure group safety and success (Frank, 2011). Group agreements help establish behavioral boundaries and practices that should become stronger as the group develops. Many programs have published rules that include specific consequences when rules are broken. Group agreements go beyond these rules and focus on how group members want to be/behave as a group. When group members themselves help generate the "rules," they tend to be more committed to and accountable for compliance with those rules.

The WSU 4-H program uses a team-based approach to create group agreements. However, there are two non-negotiable items: physical and emotional safety and the “Challenge Yourself” option (Wallace, M., et a.,, 2014). No one should ever be subjected to physical or emotional harm, and staffs should always immediately intervene if harm appears to be a possibility. The “Challenge Yourself” option allows members to choose different ways of participating in an activity. For example, a participant who may not want to share his or her learning experiences with the whole group can opt to write about them in a journal. This does not mean a group member has chosen not to participate, it just allows for a different way of participating that is more comfortable for him/her. This "challenge by choice" option tends to foster a higher level of participation by those who might typically sit on the sidelines during social activities they find somewhat uncomfortable.

Daily follow up questions:

Purpose: To make sure agreements continue to meet the group's needs and goals

Materials: Current group agreement

Introduction: A group agreement is only effective when it is put to use and upheld by the members it binds. However, the agreement created must continue to fit individual and collective needs and goals. It is a "living" document and should be updated to meet the needs of the team as it evolves. Groups should revisit their agreements on a daily basis to make sure they still reflect the group's needs and goals.

Optional Debrief Questions:

What did you see today that reminded you of our group agreement?

So what did you do to use the group agreements well? Not so well?

Now what are you going to do to uphold these agreements even more effectively?


What have you noticed about how we have used our agreement lately?

So what do you think that says about how our team has changed?

Now what would you add to or change about our agreement?


What part of the agreement have you noticed could use some practice?

So what was the impact of it not working well? So what are you learning about that part of the agreement?

Now what can you and the other group members do to get better at it tomorrow?


What part of the agreement did the group do well today?

So what is the impact on the group members when it is done well? So what are you learning about this part of the agreement?

Now what can you (or the group) do tomorrow to do things even better?