No, we didn't watch Deliverance. Or live it. But in late April, Company of Friends members from five states gathered at a rural resort in the Appalachian Mountains in northern Georgia for a grassroots leadership-development workshop. The gathering featured several guest speakers, notably Maureen McCarthy, developer of the State of Grace Document.
Currently used in organizations such as British Petroleum and Astra Zeneca Pharmaceutical, the document is an alternative employment contract in which colleagues and team members spell out their working relationship. It sets expectations for teamwork and collaboration, as well as steps to take if a relationship sours. McCarthy walked Fast Company through its core elements.
Telling the Story of Us: Even in business, we go through that "in love" phase. Capture that. Come back to it. If I take the time to tell you the specific reasons why you're the supplier, business partner, or employee I've chosen, there's a greater chance you will act that way.
Work Styles and Warning Signs: Our work styles are so varied that we get tripped up when we don't understand another way of doing something. We assume everyone basically works the same way we do. If I tell you how I tend to act when things are difficult, you might help me get out of a stressful situation rather than make things worse.
Ask Good Questions: If a work relationship goes awry, teammates need to explore what's going on. Go through a list of questions established at the beginning of the relationship addressing why people feel tense or disconnected, whether the collaboration is meeting expectations, what partners need from each other, and what's really behind the disagreement.
Plan a Happy Breakup: If things don't work out, you need to be able to exit gracefully. You don't actually determine the exit strategy, but you do own up to its possibility. Promise that you'll never try to harm your former partners, talk negatively about them, or block their progress.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.