Want Your Team to Act With Integrity? Create a Social Contract.

create a social contract

As you may have already read, the Don’t Panic team has recently been sitting down for some hard-hitting conversations about who we are, how our mission has evolved since Jess founded the company several years ago, and where our band of misfits is headed next. Throughout these few months, we have come to better define our core values:

Quality – Deliver Great Work
Commitment – Act Like You Care
Respect – Our Clients & Team
Integrity – Be Honest & Ethical
Innovation – Try New Things!

In a perfect world, it would be enough to stop there. The c-suite would plaster our values all over the online workspace, and the employees and contractors would nod in agreement and say, “Mmm, yes, quite.” We’d be the most honest, ethical, and efficient bunch in town and everyone would hire us and we’d all be rich and retire early.

Sigh. If only.

It is so easy to say to a contractor, “We care about clear lines of communication!” But how do you actually set up a team to practice what they preach? What concrete processes can you put in place to help your team members take an active role in your company culture and values?

Create a social contract: an agreement that lays the ground rules for team members’ behavior.

The Benefits of a Social Contract

You may have heard of social contracts before, but possibly only in the context of philosophy and social theory. In a business context, social contracts have far less to do with implied behavioral norms for the greater good and more to do with explicit agreements among fellow employees. Harvard Business Review outlines a social contract as a document that “can cover territory such as how members will work together, make decisions, communicate, share information, and support each other. Social contracts clearly outline norms for how members will and should interact with one another.”

By putting a name to the norms that already exist within an organization, you encourage positive behaviors and reduce the negative ones. It creates clear expectations among team members, which in turn helps them excel as a single unit. And, when you have buy-in from everyone, it increases the feeling of security in your organization.

Create Your Team’s Social Contract

These contracts don’t have to be complicated or complex (in fact, it’s probably better for everyone if they aren’t)—but they do require that everyone gets on board. In order to truly build a better team, you must have buy-in from the entire organization. Leaders, employees, contractors (and office pets I assume) must all walk the walk. One of the best ways to do this is to invite everyone at your company to contribute to your social contract.

When you’re ready to create your social contract, set aside a time when your entire team can get together. It can be part of a formal gathering at a quarterly or annual retreat, or it can simply take place somewhat casually over a group lunch or happy hour. It’s up to you! All that matters is that everyone who wants to voice their opinion gets a chance to do so.

Start by taking stock of where you are as a company. What are the social norms and common behaviors at our company? What expectations do we have of each other? Then, pair this against your values and mission statement. Not only will this help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses, it can be a pretty eye-opening experience for management! Your team members quite possibly have noticed many norms (positive and negative) that you previously didn’t know existed.

Next, turn these answers into actionable steps for productivity. What behaviors will reinforce the positive norms — and what do we need to stop doing immediately to improve the negative ones? Try to be concrete. Think of simple, clear steps that everyone can take every day to be successful.

Finally, review and revise later on down the line. Like The Constitution, a social contract is a living, breathing document. What builds a successful, healthy work environment today might change in a decade, a year—or even six months. Don’t be afraid to adjust your contract as your team sees fit.

The Don’t Panic Social Contract: Act With Integrity.

Well, you’ve made it this far, Dear Reader. Interested in knowing what’s in Don’t Panic’s social contract? With our core values in mind, here are the 10 ways Don’t Panic team members commit to treating and interacting with one another as we work together. It’s for everyone’s best interest and benefit.

Full disclosure: the Don’t Panic social contract below was created by our full-time staff while on our annual retreat in Park City, Utah. What you’re witnessing is the creation of the first draft (cool peek behind the curtain, no?), but it will change and be updated as our contractors weigh in over the coming weeks and months with their ideas. 

  1. I promise to always remain honest and to trust my team members professionally. I will not gossip about one another or engage in smarmy office politics.
  2. I make use of the tools that keep us organized as a virtual team. (Here’s lookin’ at you, Sococo and Samepage!)
  3. When in doubt, I always over-communicate with both clients and my teammates.
  4. I will be transparent about my availability. This includes the little things (“I’m taking a long weekend!”) and the big bads (“Due to a personal matter, I can no longer provide this client with the quality service they deserve”).
  5. I promise to meet both internal and external deadlines, and whenever possible, I submit work earlier than the agreed upon date and time.
  6. I promise to ask for help before I am totally drowning so that my team has time to step in and help before a crisis occurs. They can’t help row the boat if the leaks have already sprung.
  7. When I delegate an assignment to a teammate or ask for help, I promise to start by ensuring they have the bandwidth for the assignment. I clearly communicate the deadline and level of priority for the task every time.
  8. Before a deliverable is handed off to a client, I make sure at least two sets of eyes (one in addition to my own) have checked it to ensure top-level quality.
  9. If a client isn’t treating another teammate or me with respect—whether due to unreasonable expectations or plainly unethical behavior—I will notify my team immediately so we can swiftly rectify the situation together.
  10. Every day, I keep experimenting and finding new and innovative ways to improve the processes and experiences for my fellow teammates and clients.

As Don’t Panic grows and evolves, so do the promises we carry for our professional lives. Keep checking back to see how our contract changes over time as our contractors participate in its creation and as we continue to build a bigger boat.


Does your team have a social contract? What professional promises have you made to one another? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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