The Creation of Collaboration Contracts

Back in January of 2012, the company I was working for hosted Jurgen Appelo for his first Management 3.0 course in the US. If you've not read Jurgen's book on "Management 3.0", I recommend it. The book is full of good advice and simple techniques for improving the way you manage. Among the items Jurgen shares in his class, I was intrigued by The Seven Levels of Authority and his Delegation Poker game.


Empty Delegation 7 Board

Empty Delegation 7 Board

Jurgen's Delegation Poker cards were introduced to several members of the team and conversation ensued. Within a matter of hours, the phrase "Delegation 7" had become a short-hand reference to the cards and the concepts behind them. Delegation 7 seemed a great tool to help us with some of our own challenges. There were a number of items that were failing to get forward motion. Everyone had an opinion, but nobody was taking action. As a self-directed team, we had a clear short-coming; plenty of people were steering and nobody was rowing. We decided to give Delegation 7 a try. We took on a difficult task; running areas of the business. We set up a simple chart:

Yeah, but…

Who is going to delegate these responsibilities? An individual to assign levels of responsibility wasn't what we needed. We instead needed to agree on our levels of responsibility within each area. So we made a small adjustment to the concept and each of us placed our names on the chart, indicating the level of authority we felt was appropriate given our roles and experience.

Collaboration 7 - Start

Collaboration 7 - Start

This isn't going to work

We sat back and looked at the board. After a couple of seconds somebody announced, "This isn't going to work." They were right. We had conflicts all over the place. Anywhere one person wants to Tell, Sell, or Consult, we can't also have an Agree. And "Barney" sees himself as a decision maker in all aspects of the business, providing nobody else true autonomy.

Collaboration 7 - Final

Collaboration 7 - Final

But we can make it work

We talked through each of the areas and why each of us placed our names in certain columns. After some discussion and adjustments, we came up with a more workable arrangement.


This variation on the technique worked for us quite well. Delegation was not the right word; this was Collaboration. When we introduced the concept to others, we called it Delegation 7, but explained it as a collaborative exercise. The phrasing and the chart were incongruent with the explanation of the exercise. Thankfully, Alex Harms took a little time and came up with a variation on the board. We renamed it Collaboration 7.

A gradual evolution

Over the years, the process has slowly evolved. We changed the phrasing to be more consistent with collaboration and remove the delegatory tone.

Words Matter

Tell became Inform; "I will Inform you of my decision."
Sell became Explain; "I will Explain my reasoning for this decision."
Consult remained; "I will Consult with others before making this decision."
Agree remained; "I will Agree with others on this decision."
Advise remained; "I will Advise the decision maker."
Inquire remained; "I will Inquire about the decision."
Delegate became Abstain; "I will Abstain from this decision."

Through use, we discovered that not only was it rare for someone to choose either Inform or Abstain, but that when they did, it indicated an issue. In a self-organized environment, the notion that you wouldn't explain decisions you made that affect the team or that you would divorce yourself from such a decision entirely just didn't make sense. So we dropped Inform and Abstain.


Establishing working agreements is a good start, but we also need to know that the initiative is going to be carried forward. We found that when there was a clear decision maker, that individual typically pushed the initiative forward. But when we had people that wanted to Collaborate and some that wanted to Advise, we found no clear coordinator. So we introduced an official coordinator role. The team simply agrees who is going to coordinate meetings and help push the initiative forward. The coordinator role has no more or less authority in the decision. This is simply someone who agrees to help ensure the discussions happen and the decision is made.

Collaboration Contracts

Collaboration Contract Roles

Collaboration Contract Roles

The current structure has been in place and successfully implemented in a number of situations on teams around the globe. For more on the mechanics of a Collaboration Contract, read our post "Using Collaboration Contracts".