Using Win-Win Agreements to Set Projects and Partnerships Up For Success

We’ve all been part of a group project situation where there are the people that do all the work, and the people who don’t pull their weight, for whatever reason. That’s manageable when the stakes are low, but when it comes to your business it’s important to get the work done and not destroy your relationships in the process.

Enter: the Win-Win Agreement.

This is a really simple 5-step process that has a huge impact. What I’ll go through today comes from Franklin Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There is a whole chapter on Win-Win Agreements. (I couldn’t get through the rest of the book, though!)

In your business (or life, really) there will be times you decide to collaborate with someone. It could be that you’re running an event in partnership with another business, maybe you hired a team member to do a project, or you’re deciding to full-on partner with someone else. In these situations, great communication is not a given, and even if it starts out well, once you get into it things can turn sour very quickly. Resentment can build up, the work can suffer, and ultimately relationships can be ruined forever. Much of this can be prevented by using the Win-Win process ahead of time to make sure you’re both on the same page.

I’ll walk you through the process, then I’ll share how I’ve used it personally.

5 Elements of a Win-Win Agreement

1. Desired Results

First you have to get clear on your desired results, keeping the end in mind. Document your objectives and your desired outcomes. Recognize if all parties do not have the same objectives and determine if you should move forward with the partnership. This is the first place you’ll notice red flags if there are any.

2. Guidelines

This is where you decide how you’ll get those results. Specify the boundaries and deadlines for accomplishing the results. Spend time on the little details here. Who will do what? Will you have regular meetings? Do you have very different roles or are you working together? Be sure to listen to each other and not just have one person assign roles to the other person.

3. Resources

List all human, financial, technical, or organizational resources available and needed to accomplish your desired results. Is there consent to bring in outside help or experts? What is the budget for this? Who will manage those resources or seek them out? Try to anticipate what you will need ahead of time.

4. Accountability

Identify standards and methods of measurement for progress and accomplishments. How will you hold each other accountable? Will there be specific communication about tasks (E.g. “Did you finish ___ yet?”) or how will it be communicated that a task is done? How will you track progress? It’s so important that one party doesn’t feel like they’re nagging the other party, unless that was agreed upon ahead of time. Resentment builds when this step isn’t done correctly.

5. Consequences

You’ll be tempted to skip this part because “we’re adults”, but stick with it. Determine results of achieving or not achieving win-win. If the agreement is not maintained, the consequence should be somewhat difficult or regretful for the party involved. (E.g. Donate a set dollar amount to a charity you do not support) This is to add just that extra bit of incentive to stick to the agreement. Agree on the protocol if win-win is not maintained. Will you continue to work together, or will you part ways?

I would recommend documenting this agreement and making sure everybody has a copy. The last step is to make sure all parties actually agree to the final Win-Win Agreement.

Before you wrap up, set a time to revisit the agreement, and review if it is working and being upheld by all parties.

You may be wondering, will the other person really do this? Won’t this make it a little bit awkward? Of course there are a lot of factors in answering this, but a partner that isn’t willing to take the time to go through this agreement probably won’t make for a very good partner in the project. Taking the time to set things up right and get your communication straight is going to make you a lot more likely to succeed as a team. I also find that by following a structure it doesn’t feel as much like you’re imposing rules on the other person, since you just go step-by-step. You can try language like “So before we dive too deep into this project, I’d love to spend an hour or so just mapping out how we’ll approach this as a team. Would you be open to it? I have a framework we can follow.”

I’ve used a Win-Win Agreement twice in my professional career, and lots of times in my personal life with my partner. They have been a total game-changer for me.

Professionally, I was pretty deep into a collaboration with someone else and I was starting to feel like I was doing all the work. As my resentment started to build I spoke to my coach about it and they first introduced me to the Win-Win Agreement. I brought it to my collaborator and we walked through it together. By doing it I realized actually how much he was doing to fill our program and get the word out, whereas I was doing a lot of the back-end content work. Because we had never talked about it properly, we didn’t have that clarity from the beginning. We still had some hiccups but the program was a great success and ended up really launching me into the world of business coaching. We even ran it a second time!

Personally, my partner and I have written up many Win-Win Agreements together. We haven’t done one in awhile, but now that we have a daughter and we’re both working we’re due for another one! Truthfully I don’t recall the specifics of them but I know they have helped us define things like how we divide household work, what we do with our free time, and how we communicate about things. The agreements were a launching-off point for us to have constructive conversations about what wasn’t working and to take steps to improve them.

You probably see that you won’t be using this tool every day, or even every year, but it’s an awesome framework to have in your back pocket when you decided to collaborate with someone else. An hour or two discussion up front can really prevent so much headache as the project moves forward. And it’s also an excellent way to assess if it will be a partnership worth pursuing in the first place. It’s pretty simple, but amazingly powerful.

Looking for an alternative to the mainstream business advice you read online? Stephanie gives you permission to do business on your own terms. No nonsense, thorough, and immediately useful, her wisdom cuts to the chase of what you really need to succeed. To get articles and behind-the-scenes business insights delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to her weekly permission slips here.