Opting into collaboration with Good Good Work

Relationships are built on mutually understood agreements. More often than not, these agreements are based on mutually implicit understandings of common terms. Employee, best friend, peer, co-worker, manager, president, CFO, etc. all have implicit meanings which we assume are commonly understood. In my experience, we can often trace problems in relationships back to misalignment in these implicit understandings. Our expectations of another person do not align with what they believe is expected of them when our agreement is only as deep as a single word like “client” or “consultant.” At the end of the day each of us has our own unique understanding of these words.

At Good Good Work we strive to make the implicit explicit. We also strive to be transparent. To that end, I’m going to dig a little deeper into how we engage with clients.

The Master Service Agreement

From Wikipedia:

“A master service agreement is a contract reached between parties, in which the parties agree to most of the terms that will govern future transactions or future agreements.”

Download the template here

We see the MSA as the opening of a relationship with a group we are going to do work for. In fact, before we do any work for a group, we require that they sign an MSA. Typically, the MSA is followed by a Statement of Work (SOW), which defines the scope of a project. The MSA acts as a foundation for the relationship while the SOW defines very specific acts. Legally speaking, the SOW supersedes the MSA whenever they are in conflict. The MSA “catches” anything that isn’t covered by a SOW. This allows us to create Statements of Work that are tidy and precise.

We break our MSA up into a few sections:

  • Preamble
  • Rate
  • Legal Requirements
  • Cultural Norms
  • Client Cultural Norms

The preamble and legal requirements aren’t really interesting; you’ve probably seen this kind of stuff in many agreements and it’s thoroughly covered online, and you really should talk with a lawyer about this kind of stuff anyway.

We define the rate  as a means to set a standard hourly rate for any work that falls outside of a Statement of Work. This allows us to do little things for our clients without having to create a whole new SOW. For instance, we were asked to do a discovery recently for a client, but quickly found out that they had an emergency with their server. Due to a little bit of technological malpractice on the part of a former consultant, they were 200% over their server space limit and were about to be charged some $700 by their hosting company. We were able to swoop in and save the day because we had the MSA already in place to account for this kind of out-of-scope work.

This might seem small or petty, but we can avoid uncomfortable situations because we are explicit like this. Having a Master Service Agreement allows us to do work without putting us or the client at risk.

Cultural Norms

What I’m really proud of here is our cultural norms section. This is something that Katie developed after years of working on her own. She developed an arsenal of legalese to protect her against bad clients who stiffed her or stole her work. In spite of that, she found that there were practices some clients would engage in that couldn’t be curbed through legal language. What it came down to was expectations and our misalignment around them. For example:

[9:45 pm] Client: “Hey I’ve got an urgent request, can you do this now?!”

This is a text message we’ve gotten far too often. The work day is over and we are trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance when an urgent request comes in. This signals different expectations. The client expects people to be on call, perhaps because they are on call (for whatever reason) at night. It’s a minor thing but again, this is about setting expectations so everyone can be happy. We cover this exact scenario in the maintain professional boundaries section of our cultural norms:

As it turns out, our Clients are pretty great! We love to socialize and get to know them on a personal level. We’re all about happy hours and hikes instead of dumping catch-up and hang-out time into meetings. One-on-one time shouldn’t cost money. We also like to keep work inside standard US business hours (10:00-18:00 eastern time, Monday-Friday). If we get text messages [see documentation]—or emails after hours—it’s 99% likely we won’t respond. But we’ll certainly get back to you the next time we’re in the office.

This gives us the power to say “no” and mean it. We’ve set a boundary and now it’s just a matter of pointing to the document everyone signed and saying “nope sorry can’t do that, we agreed.” This might seem trivial, but consider the power dynamic of someone who controls your livelihood making a demand like that.

Beyond being able to say no with confidence, it also supports our own development of healthy work habits. I’m constantly reminded of this agreement, that I have with all of my clients, when an email pops up on my phone while I’m out with friends. Not only do I have no obligation to look at it, I’m actually incentivised not to respond lest I break my own agreement!

The Client’s Cultural Norms

We provide space for our clients to add their own cultural norms too. We want to know what they expect and how they work. We haven’t yet actually tested this part of our document with any clients, so I can’t say how well this works. If you want to try it out with us, just book a consult here.

What I do know is that this little bit of work upfront can save a lot of heartache down the road.

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Morning Meeting

This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief

morning-meeting-with-abe

 

The daily cycle of intention setting starts with the morning meeting. This meeting is one of the few required activities each student agreed to in the ALCE Student Agreement. Because of it’s required status the meeting was held with a high level of reverence by starting on time and pushing for full attendance.

Our basic structure is as follows:

  • Check-ins
  • Intention setting
  • Scrum
  • Set the day
  • Share intentions

Check-ins

Once the meeting was started we could jump into short check-ins. This process is to give people space to let others know how they are feeling. Making our current emotional state explicit helps the general group dynamic. If I’m feeling stressed out its best to let others know so they can take that information into mind when interacting with me.

In practice the students typically would talk more about their mornings or dreams they had that night.

Intention Setting

The process of setting the day starts with time spent thinking about what each individual wants or needs to get done. We would sit together and manipulate our personal kanban boards.

 

studetn-kanban
Student Kanban

Further into year we tried different configurations of this activity. Noticing that some students needed help figuring out what they wanted/needed to do we turned this activity into a small group exercise, illustrated below:

new_intention_setting

 

We started by pairing off, each pair would brain storm what activities they both individually wanted to do. After a few minutes of this we would join pairs together into small groups and repeat the process. Sometimes we would change up the process and require that each person presented for the other. So if Nick and Jurr were in a pair, when they joined a group Jurr would talk about what Nick wanted to get done and Nick would review Jurr’s intentions with the group.

From there we would join into a full group with our intentions much more though out.

This was very effective because it gave each student the individual attention that I, as sole facilitator, couldn’t give them. In addition trusting students to step into the role of facilitator with their peers is empowering.

Scrum

Once our personal intentions were set we would move into the Scrum phase. This is a term that comes from Agile Project Management and refers, possibly, to the Rugby activity of the Scrum, where players work together to move the ball towards the goal.

Our goal, to extend the metaphor, is to accomplish our intentions. Many intentions require coordination with other people. So Scrum time is where we negotiate with each other about when to do things.

For instance, three of us might have books we want to read. We might use the Scrum to coordinate with each other and other peers to create a quite place for a few hours.

Alternatively I might need help from a student doing a personal project and I’ll negotiate a time to get that thing done with them.

Typically Scrum (and the following set-the-day and intention sharing) is done standing to keep energy up and meeting time brief.

Set the Day

Once we have set our personal intentions and figured out when we can do the things we  turn our attention to the Group Kanban’s doing column where we find each hour of the school day laid out. We add group activities to the board and (as a rule introduced later) we add individual activities as well.

Adding to the Kanban
Adding to the Kanban in the early days

Setting the day is important because it makes our plans explicit. If someone were to walk into the school they would be able to see the outcome of our morning meeting on the Group Kanban board and have a general idea of where we were and what we were doing.

In a “low structure” environment, this orientation tool can be very helpful.

Share Personal Intentions

The final step in our morning meeting process is to state our intentions to the group. We stand in a circle and simply say what we plan to do. This small act has a big impact. By telling our peers what we intend to do we are making ourselves accountable to them. If we stray off task our peers can help us get back on task.

Once our intentions are shared we then adjourn the meeting and set off to seize the day.