Agreements: A Tool for Developing Safety

Posted: October 12, 2011 in Monday Morning Message
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Last week we talked about safety being the foundation for positive youth development and how without both emotional and physical safety present, positive youth development will come to a screeching halt.  So how can we create an environment where emotional and physical safety is championed?

Group agreements are a critical first step to creating safety with a group.  Agreements are group-generated norms, for how we will work together and treat each other.  Agreements make us feel safe because they allow us to predict what is going to happen and make things explicit (or clear)..  Agreements are NOT rules (i.e. everyone must bring pencil and paper).[i]  Instead they are entirely about creating emotional and physical safety for your group.  It is also important to note that agreements are not created or enforced by the leader or facilitator alone but by the entire group.

A close friend of mine always says, “sometimes you have to go slow to go fast” and taking the time to create agreements with your club, training group or meeting with adults is a perfect example of this truism.  It has been my experience that groups that effectively use agreements as a foundation for their group are more efficient, more connected to each other and move ahead more in confidence in their work.  Here are some suggestions for making agreements a powerful tool of safety in your group:

1.       Let the group determine the agreements not the leader/facilitator.

A common mistake that many people make when attempting to implement agreements into their group is that the leader/facilitator dictates what the agreements are to the group or “guide the group” to the agreements that they envision for the group.  This defeats the whole purpose of agreements and actually does more damage to a group.  Ask group members what they need in order to feel safe and be a contributing member of the group and let them express their thoughts in their own language and way.  The leader/facilitator can also state their needs as a member of the group.

2.       Use the language of agreements in your meetings and trainings.

As mentioned above, agreements are NOT rules.  Rules are an important and necessary part of life and I am not encouraging you to throw out rules.  On the positive side, rules can provide healthy boundaries to an environment.  Too often though rules are used to control and give power to one individual.  On the other hand, agreements are more about the way a group will treat each other and interact.  Agreements are meant to be UPHELD rather than ENFORCED.  Making sure that the group is upholding the agreements is the responsibility of the whole group and not just the leader/facilitator.

3.       Use them!

This may sound funny, but I have worked with many groups who love the concept of building agreements into their group, spend the time necessary to create them and then never use them on a regular basis or just tokenize them by reviewing them at the beginning of each meeting.  Agreements are a living document and will help guide the group, they should be reviewed at the beginning of each meeting and evaluated at the end (how did we do today on agreeing to disagree? Etc.).  Agreements should also be reviewed before potentially difficult discussions or anytime a group member feels that the agreements are not being upheld.

4.       Revise them when appropriate.

Agreements are not set in stone.  As a group grows, its needs are going to change, so will the emotional and physical safety needs of the group.  In addition, anytime a new group member is introduced, the needs of the group have changed and that person has a need and right to contribute to what their needs are as well.

The practice of having agreements within my meetings and trainings has been critical to my success in almost any environment I am in.  I use them when I facilitate business meetings, when I work with youth and even have family agreements that were created with my daughters.  In short, agreements make life more smooth and create the space for people to be more comfortable and effective in whatever is being done.

Do facilitate group agreements with your club or at your training event, please reference the “Rights and Responsibilities” Activity on pg. 23 in your iChampion guide and pg.6 in the iThrive guide.  This activity can also be downloaded from the 4-H website at www.ca4h.org.


[i] Youth Development Institute Training Binder ©2010

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