Opinion
Education Opinion

Staff Agreements Help Nurture a Positive Working Culture

By Learning Forward — January 06, 2014 3 min read
Stephanie Hirsh

I was reminded over the holidays of the impact of organizational culture on individuals’ tenure and success in organizations. Creating a positive working culture is hard work and only those who understand the power of culture may be willing to invest in the actions required to achieve one. Creating a positive working culture isn’t easy. It is only when staff members understand the power of such a culture that they will make the effort to play their roles in establishing it.

At Learning Forward, we have a long history of developing, reviewing, modifying, and using staff agreements to maintain the culture we value. Our agreements describe how we want to be treated and how we are expected to treat others. Our goal is an organizational culture that honors the expertise and needs of individuals while supporting a shared purpose. We strive for a working environment that people view as productive, supportive, fun, and accountable. While Learning Forward staff members may choose other words to describe the environment, all employees commit to our staff agreements. They hold themselves and others accountable to the agreements and during semiannual evaluations, address the agreements that are most challenging to them.

My goal is that all staff realize that the agreements do not call for perfection. Rather, the agreements help us recognize and own our mistakes so that we can make commitments to improve and take new actions in the future.

I think about the power of our staff agreements and how helpful they might be in school systems, schools, and at the team level. If people can collaboratively articulate and define their expectations for themselves and for others and commit to a set of working agreements, then so many of the barriers that inhibit successful progress can be eliminated.

Here are our Learning Forward staff agreements, and I’ll ask you to consider several questions below.

Keep your promises.


  • Renegotiate before the deadline if you know you are unable to keep a commitment.
  • Do not offer excuses; excuses, good or bad, do not equal a kept agreement.

Take responsibility for your mistakes and fix your breakdowns.


  • Be willing to be wrong and admit your mistakes.
  • Assume responsibility for your mistakes and figure out how to prevent them in the future.

Speak to people rather than about them.


  • Speak directly to a person with whom you have a complaint, concern, issue, or problem (using the phone or face-to-face communication rather than email), rather than about him or her to someone else.
  • Speak to a colleague about someone else only when seeking assistance in addressing another person directly.

Invest in the success of Learning Forward


  • Respond to colleagues’ requests marked urgent within twenty-four hours and others within 72 hours.
  • If you cannot meet a request or do not have input, please respond to your colleague letting them know.
  • Share views on others’ work or assignments; however, recognize that the person responsible may choose not to act on your views.

Trust the competency of your colleagues.


  • Respect the authority and trust the competency of your colleagues.
  • Assume all Learning Forward staff members work hard, are committed to Learning Forward, and thorough in their areas of responsibility.
  • Use complaints as opportunities to find ways to improve.

Use laughter and humor to defuse stress.


  • Use laughter and humor appropriately.
  • Avoid jokes at the expense of others.

Celebrate contributions; demonstrate appreciation.


  • Show appreciation for what others do.
  • Be sincere in giving recognition — act with graciousness and humility.

Be open to other points of view.


  • Stay unattached to your ideas.
  • Support decisions made.

Which ones might be used to start a conversation within your teams and schools? How would life be different this year if everyone agreed to play by a more powerful set of rules? How might a transformed working culture advance other goals in your context?

Wishing you a positive and productive 2014! Let me know how new agreements help you as the year progresses.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward
@HirshLF

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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