How team agreements can stop the busy-ness and improve your life

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 11

Sep 26, 2022

In this episode...

We chat about the busy-ness that has taken over the world of work and just life in general and ask the question:

How do people actually get anything done?

Meetings are just booked back to back with no gaps and no breaks to do something human, like go to the bathroom, get some refreshment or do whatever you need to do.

Karin had one regional director say that when people look at his calendar and see 30 minutes that aren’t booked, they don’t think, oh, I won’t disturb him today.  He looks obviously busy.  That’s not what happens.  People look at it and go, oh yippy, 30 minutes - I’ll squeeze myself right in there.

People are not blocking out time for deep work, thinking and effectiveness.

Nobody stops to think about what justice or injustice you are doing to your current moment. Nor what justice or injustice you are doing to the moment you are going into, because we are just not present.

The Hamster Wheel

You’re going around and around. It’s getting faster and faster and faster. Eventually, you are either flung off or, even worse, bounced around - like a tennis ball - and end up broken, bruised and booked off.

How much of a hamster wheel

  • are you prepared to be on?
  • is your company and leadership promoting?

What systems are no longer serving you? that somehow keep us from talking about them - challenging them? What else comes to mind?

What are we encouraging in our acceptance, promotion and conversations?

If always being busy is considered healthy and good, then being busy is encouraged and promoted. Suppose mental health, psychological safety and managing your personal energy is promoted. In that case, the conversation changes and productivity and effectiveness increase.

Busy-ness has become an endemic issue.

What is the impact of this?  Physically, emotionally, and mentally?  Not just on yourself, but on everyone else around you?  How do you grow others when you are under stress yourself?

It’s in the conversations we have and the conversations we are not having.

Seth Godin speaks about this in a section of his Blog titled :

But first, we need to talk about it

People don’t talk about end-of-life suffering or the cost of healthcare in the last year of life, so it never gets better. Instead, we pretend it isn’t an issue and the problem persists.

We don’t talk about the ongoing and escalating costs (human and financial) of our changing climate, so the systems that are making it worse continue, unimpeded.

We don’t talk about all the time we waste in meetings, the persistence of caste and injustice, the manipulation of our communication platforms, the creeping aristocracy disguised as a meritocracy or even the ridiculous nature of the wedding-industrial complex.

What all of these systems have in common is that they maintain their position in the status quo by creating a force field that somehow keeps us from talking about them.

On the other hand, we talk about quarterly profits, sports rankings, celebrities and the horserace of the day’s politics all the time. Which is why so much time and energy is spent on polishing and optimizing those systems.

Figure out what’s important, then create the conditions for people to talk about it.

Team Agreements

So, how do we go about actually having those team agreements? Because often we make assumptions that this is common sense… but how is it?  unless it is an agreed understanding that makes sense to all of us.

What are the rules of engagement for this?

With the various ways we are working nowadays (remote spaces, in the office and shared spaces), it's important to start by asking what type of meeting you will have.

Ask the questions:

  • Do we really need this?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Is it a formal or informal meeting?
  • Is it for data sharing or status updates versus relational?
  • Is having a meeting the best use of our time?
  • Can it be done in a different way?

Thinking about the busy-ness of meetings and how often, when you are invited,

  • is your first thought, “I don’t even know why I need to be there”,
  • and the second thought, “I guess I best accept as I was invited”,

yet, when the meeting starts, you are just not present as your attention is divided elsewhere.

When we look at what the outcome is that we will like from a meeting, we can work backwards from there and understand the purpose. Then choose what we want to do with it and ask ourselves:

Do I even need to be there?

Amongst the many great tools and sites out there for everyone to utilise, there is a site called Management, which is an agile management organisation that looks for efficiencies around leadership.

One exercise they have is called Delegation Poker - a useful aid in the process of decision-making (see our resources section for more information on this).

Delegation Poker Image of 7 delegation options
Delegation Poker Cards

From the Delegation Poker homepage

Use Delegation Poker to clarify who’s responsible for what and to what level. This is a method where you can encourage employee engagement through controlled self-organization and clarified value and decision-making.

The objective of Delegation Poker is to drive home the idea of delegating decisions and tasks to your team within a controlled environment. It also is a good collaboration game. Many teams play it without even totalling points, and more than anything else, it’s a conversation topic and a starting point for the discussion of who should do what.

  1. Delegation is not a binary thing. There are plenty of “shades of grey” between being a dictator and an anarchist.
  2. Delegation is a step-by-step process. You hand over accountability to other people in a controlled and gradual way.
  3. Delegation is context-dependent. You want to delegate as much as possible, but if you go too far, chaos might unfold.

The power of 'NO.' 

One word of two letters is so powerful! Yet we find it difficult to say, "Thanks for the invite, but no", without having to give an excuse or an entire reason.  

No is a very valid response to a request. However, we often find ourselves moving into the realm of linguistic acts. We make requests, we make offers, and we make lots and lots of slippery promises.

Being confident enough to say no to your team is very similar to being able to speak up and say, hang on - I don't think this is safe.  Or I don't feel that what we are doing here is okay.  

But there is the discomfort of worrying about putting someone out or upsetting someone or that it's just so awkward to say no.  Yet part of the team agreement is getting comfortable with being able to say, not today, or I don't feel I will add value to the session. So I'm declining; however, should that need change, let me know and invite me in to advise, inquire, or consult - and get comfortable with that.  

There is something here around respect, permission and dignity.

How much of this busy-ness is habitual?

And how much of it do we disrespect ourselves and those around us by just overloading?

A few nuggets to remember:

  • If we don't start our meetings with at least the ‘why’ or the ‘purpose’, then we are just having a meeting for a chat.  Sometimes that is very valid, but that’s a purpose because we do it with intent.
  • Try combating busy-ness by building in planned deep work time, time-out, or a buffer on either side of your meetings that cannot be booked.  It doesn’t need to be 15-minutes but at least give yourself enough time to get a glass of water or go to the bathroom if you need to.
  • Having an outcomes-based agenda: what do we want to achieve so that we are all walking into the session knowing the desired outcome upfront
  • Knowing the expected outcome, you could have a 20-minute meeting rather than an hour, half an hour, or 45-minute one.  Shorter meetings are more efficient, get to the point of what you need, and everyone can move on.
  • If you are online, try to put your camera on as much as possible and be present.  We’re not talking about when you are struggling with technology that has let you down, or an agreement by the team, in the beginning, to say this is a quick catch up, so we only have to hear voices… that's different.  
  • Consider the communication style of others - some people need more detail, others need less.

Two more

(That doesn’t particularly relate to meetings but rather to reduce the amount of data that is flowing toward us or that we are directing to others):

  • The email ‘cc’ rule:  If I am only in the email thread for informational purposes, then put me in ‘cc’ and know I will not be responding or engaging.
  • Five-line emails:  We often feel we have so much to put out there and overcomplicate the message with conversational wasteGrab their attention with no more than five lines in your initial email by taking the time to be succinct and saying, here are the key elements.  If you feel someone needs more, add that in an attachment.

Emotional Gem

We, humans, are emotional beings, and at the end of each session, our gift to you is an insight into an emotion.

Did you know that we have over 250 emotions? Yet, we only understand or talk about +/- 12. By exploring these, you may be surprised at what you learn.

Karin has been studying Emotional Literacy with Dan Newby, the founder of the School of Emotions and references emotional literacy regularly during her coaching conversations.

Today's Emotional Gem is... DIGNITY

  • Story:  I am worthy; I am enough as I am
  • Impulse: (what action does it trigger in us?)  To act as a legitimate human being deserving of (self) respect
  • Purpose:  Allows us to set and protect our personal boundaries

Dignity is one of the most important emotions in terms of self-identity, yet it is unfamiliar to many people.  To feel Dignity means to "feel worthy".  It is the belief that we are as important as any other person and that we deserve our place in the world.  In other words, we are legitimate human beings.  Another belief is that we have the right to choose for ourselves.

Dignity allows you to set your boundaries, and if they are crossed, indignance will be provoked to defend them.

Similar feeling emotion is Pride, Arrogance, Love, and Respect.


We use the iPhone app Emote: Mastering Your Emotions to select the Emotional Gem for each episode. To learn more about emotional literacy and access the app visit the School of Emotions

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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