A few weeks ago, I attended the inaugural planning meeting for a local TEDx event. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept, TED is a conference that originally began in 1984 as a way to bring the worlds of Technology, Entertainment and Design together to discuss “ideas worth spreading.” Through streaming videos of their short, yet compelling presentations, the TED concept has grown to include a worldwide TEDGlobal conference and independently organized TEDx events. The Lancaster, PA region will be hosting a TEDx event in May 2014 and I was able to attend the first meeting where a diverse group of local innovators and thinkers worked to establish the vision and theme of the conference. At the planning session’s conclusion, organizers handed out agreements for volunteers who wished to be involved in programming the event. The agreement was unlike any that I had encountered before. Often, these agreements detail legal expectations of privacy or clauses to restrict competition. The TEDx agreement included none of this language and stands as a model of expectations for anyone working in collaborative teams. The agreement included the following statements, which when signed, formed a contract of expected behaviors for all volunteers:
1. I will believer the power of collective genius. I will learn and share and walk the talk with pride.
2. I am not the All-Knowing, and I don’t have the All-Seeing Eye.
3. I am going to do the assigned tasks better than expected.
4. I am going to research TED and TEDx like it’s going out of style and know what I’m talking about when I open my mouth about all things TED, TEDx and TEDxLancaster.
5. I am going to exercise my right to be awesomely cool and show up for all meetings and tasks ten minutes before they are supposed to begin.
6. I will not quit, no matter what. Once I’m in, I’m in.
7. I will discuss any grievances in private with my team leader and try to resolve any issues with the kind of dignity that will set new standards of class.
8. If I can’t be there for a meeting or a task, I will alert my team leader a day before so my duties can be arranged for something else.
9. I will maintain team spirit by being supportive, constructive and respectful of others’ opinions. I will question things and give suggestions to make things better, not to randomly rip them apart.
10. I will try my best to preserve our collective resources and make the most of what I have.
11. I will aim big and dream bigger. I will not let pessimism take me over. I will defeat negativity with my optimism and with my genius. If things get tough, I’ll get tougher. I’ll give help and seek help without delay. If there is one thing I take away from this whole experience, this must be it.
12. I will have so much fun, my friends and family members will volunteer next year just to see what I’m on.
Taken together, the agreement seeks to avoid the destructive behaviors that often hinder the work of collaborative teams. Imagine getting an agreement like this when a new committee is formed or when a new team is organized. From the start, it would inspire the group and help set the foundation for positive, productive interactions. While many of these calls to action shouldn’t need to be explicitly stated, a detailed agreement like this may help to improve the functionality of some groups. Or at least reduce some of the dysfunction.
The agreement would also be beneficial for students as well. Next semester, I’m planning to distribute a similar agreement to my students before they start their large collaborative project in class. Hopefully, it will set a positive tone for the semester and specifically outline the expected behaviors of the class. Be warned. If you see a bunch of awesomely cool students being productive and supportive next semester, they’re probably my students dreaming big and doing their work like it’s going style.