Find Mediators Near You:

Managing By Agreement-The New MBA

A Challenging Time for Organizations

The capacity of technology is far greater than what most of us need. Regulation is way behind trying to catch up to the reality of actual practice. This is true with technology, the internet, patents, biotechnology, finance, utilities, mergers etc., etc., etc.…! Many people are feeling disoriented because our foundation of standards and accepted ways of doing things has crumbled. We have no solid ground to stand on, and it’s not going back to the way it was!

Collaboration is one of the keys to high levels of productivity. But the old rules about forms of collaboration no longer apply. The only rules that exist are the ones you make up for the particular transaction. That’s why it’s so important to have a method that will take care of any collaborative transaction, which is every transaction. The new MBA cuts through to the core of what gets in the way of the highest levels of performance and productivity. It elegantly creates joint vision and quiets the internal voices of dissonance and conflict (chatter,) that get in the way of real partnership. MBA is the path to relationships based on covenant.

The Source of Dissonance and Conflict

Productivity and satisfaction depend on “clear” hearts and “clear” agreements. When the heart or the agreement is unclear, conflict and compromised productivity follow. When I think of entering a new business or personal relationship, or a conflict resolution process I think of a continuum:

1. Stress signals real conflict or fear of conflict in a new project, team or relationship. This is our individual reaction.

2. Self-Management (of emotion generated by stress) is a precursor to effective negotiation and collaborative dialogue about the real or potential conflict. This is a skill we need to learn.

3. Collaborative Dialogue to create clarity takes place resulting in a new agreement that resolves the conflict, or starts the new venture off on solid ground.

No. 1 is the context organizations operate in – there is no shortage of the potential supply of dissonance and conflict. No. 2 consists of the traditional ways people manage their emotions such as visualization, “time outs,” dealing with it “tomorrow,” exercise, nature, yoga, etc. (One quick, elegant, scientifically documented method called “Freeze-Frame” has been developed by the Heartmath organization.

The new MBA takes care of No.3 !

The Management Opportunity

2000 seems much different than 1990. Changes include the presence or survival of mania; Knowledge Workers; The End of the Job; Downsizing or Rightsizing: Reengineering; Self-managed Organizations; Flattening; Technology; Telecommuting; Huge Bull Market; Stock Options; Free Agency; Brand Me; The Learning Organization; Merger Mania; Golden Parachutes; Executive MBA’s; Employment Litigation; Project Orientation; Work as a Primary Community; Reliance on a “Work Family;” and The Virtual Organization.

These changes have generated significant conflict and dissonance in organizations; and great opportunity. Unfortunately, most managers (like most people) are conflict adverse – they don’t engage (most avoid) conflict until it becomes acute. By then the costs of conflict are staggering: paying professionals; lost productivity; opportunity cost; loss of the benefits of continuing relationships; and the emotional cost that eats at the fabric of every organization’s spirit.

When managers do engage with conflict they often only deal with symptoms. They resist getting near the real source of dissonance. To stop the staggering loss of resources managers would be well served to learn the skills needed to “manage by agreement.” The organizational benefits that flow from the competence to prevent and deal with conflict are huge. The ability to resolve conflict and form effective working relationships impacts the core of every organizational function – teaming, managing, partnering, customer servicing, producing, innovating, learning, collaborating and diversity. I believe that the failure to proactively develop competence in dealing with conflict is a form of mismanagement! Conversely, knowing how to develop effective working agreements is a fundamental competence for managing anything.

How MBA Works

The consistent thread of all forms of organizational learning and training (team building, communication, listening, diversity, coaching, basic management, delegation, conflict resolution, and strategic planning) is the desire to have people moving toward a shared vision following the same road map. Too much training, and the language from all the different training, gets confusing, complicates and can marginalize the collaborative skills we are born with.

The new MBA provides everyone with the same “core competence” about how to work together effectively, and how to get back to working together effectively when collaboration breaks down. The models and templates are based on 25 years of experience creating great teams. Given the flattened nature of organizations, and the disappearing or non-existent standards for conducting business, a way to become self-governing and self-organizing in all situations is needed. MBA provides the tools to do that.





Workplaces have become our dominant social institution, the arena in which we create, produce, and provide, not only for each other’s material needs, but also for each other’s social needs within our “work families.” In the 21st Century organizations will not only serve their mission, they will also be a very important vehicle for taking care of human social needs. MBA contains easy to use tools that create partnership and shared commitment in all forms of organizational relationships.

Managing by Agreement creates covenantal relationships that are based on shared commitment to ideas, issues, values, goals and management process. Covenant is the true source of real teams, and is a key ingredient for having a “Work Family” which provides a source of the richness and fulfillment we seek. With covenants in place results beyond expectation follow. When you start a new project you will have the tools to put in place a road map that reminds you of your mission, and the route to get you there. If you’re deep in conflict MBA provides a 7 Step Process to Resolution.

Since technology enables capacity far beyond human capability, and regulation lags far behind what people are doing, we need processes that allow us to define how we will work together. Managing by Agreement provides a dynamic context that advances change in organizational cultures. Agreements provide the context that promotes collaboration, teaming, learning, change, and continuous improvement. The new MBA provides standard practices through which desired changes can be identified, clarified and implemented. Individuals and groups are legitimized as they learn how to address their unique needs and concerns. The result is empowerment, teamwork, increased productivity and self-management. Here is some greater detail:

The Art Of Agreement

Productivity and collaboration are a function of effective explicit agreements! All productivity, and all satisfying professional and personal relationships result from collaborative action. We collaborate with others in language by forming agreements. These agreements are express (spoken or written) or implied (assumed.) We often have conflict because we did not take the time, and we never learned how, to craft effective, explicit agreements. This is a skill we were never taught, even though it is fundamental and a foundational life skill.

The cause of wasteful, expensive conflicts are implicit, inartful, incomplete agreements that do not express a joint vision, and do not solidify relationship in the process of crafting the agreement. This often happens because the process of negotiating an agreement is seen as an adversarial process you try to win, as compared to a joint visioning process that expresses an inclusive vision of desired outcomes, and the road map to those desired results.

Agreements impact every aspect of organizational life including:

  • Ability to set and reach goals
  • Quality of work
  • Quality of work relationships
  • Strength of teams
  • Amount and intensity of conflict
  • Level of trust
  • Leadership ability

You can learn how to craft elegant agreements using a 10 element Agreement Template.They can be used with yourself as goal setting tools. They can be used to foster covenental partnerships with colleagues, bosses, support staff, suppliers, joint venture partners; clients and any collaborators. The key is articulating joint vision, how you will produce desired outcomes, standards to evaluate your results, and who you need to reach your objectives. MBA is a simple way of planning and implementation that generates a high level of buy in because it is empowering, inclusive and highly participatory.

The Ten Elements are:

1. Intent and Specific Vision-
The big picture of what you intend to accomplish together must be specified. The first step of any effective collaboration is sharing a big picture of what you are doing together. This provides a framework to hang the details on. A joint enterprise works best when everyone is working toward the same specific goals. The clearer the detail of desired outcomes, the more likely you will attain them as visualized.

2. Roles and Necessary Parties-
The duties, responsibilities, and commitment of everyone must be clearly defined. Everyone necessary to achieve the desired results must be part of the agreement.

3. Promises/Committments to Action-
The agreement contains clear promises so everyone knows who will do what. When commitments to take action are specific, you can determine if the actions are sufficient to obtain the desired results and what actions are missing.

a. Time-All promises must have specific time deadlines for task completion. These are “by whens”-by when will you do this, and by when will you do that. In addition, the time period the agreement will be in force must be specified.
b. Value Of Exchange-This specifies who gets what for what. Is the exchange satisfactory? Is it fair? Does it provide adequate incentive? This must be clearly understood, and everyone must be satisfied or someone will sabotage the transaction.

4. Measurements of Satisfaction-
The evidence that everyone has achieved his or her objectives must be clear, direct, and measurable so there can be no disagreement. This element is critical because it eliminates conflict about the ultimate question-Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

5. Concerns and Fears-
Bringing unspoken difficulties to the surface provides the opportunity to anticipate and minimize the disagreements you know will happen during the collaboration. The discussion will deepen the partnership being created or let you know this is not a partnership you want to be part of.

6. Renegotiation and Dissolution-
No matter how optimistic and clear you are it will become necessary to renegotiate promises and conditions of satisfaction. Circumstances change, and you must put in place a mechanism to address the new conditions. Being realistic about this at the beginning enables the relationship to evolve and prosper. It is imperative to provide everyone with a way out-an exit strategy everyone can follow with dignity. Anyone who feels imprisoned in a transaction, partnership, or relationship will not make his or her maximum contribution to the enterprise.

7. Consequences-
Although you may not want to police the agreement, it is important to agree on consequences for anyone who breaks a promise.

8. Dispute Resolution-
Acknowledge that conflicts and disagreements arise as a matter of course as people work together. If you know that and establish the attitude of resolution and a process that leads to a new agreement, resolving conflicts will be easier.

9. Management-
Someone must take responsibility for stewarding the project and ensuring the agreement is honored and the intended results are obtained. While this is everyone’s responsibility, it is important enough to have a point person.

10. Agreement ?-
Everyone is satisfied and ready to take action. Work on the agreement until you are satisfied that you have an agreement or do not have one. Unless and until you are satisfied, do not move into action. You will not have a shared vision to work toward. Also ask yourself whether the outcome will be worth it.

Getting To Resolution (GTR)

Conflicts, differences and internal “chatter” pervade organizational relationships. No matter how good the agreement, conflict and differences will surface. The ability to prevent destructive conflict (dissonance that gets in the way of productivity,) and always move toward resolution and agreement is a critical core competence. Resolution and a new agreement that articulates the resolution increases productivity and returns everyone to optimal levels of output and satisfaction.

Resolution restores the ability and desire to take action, coordinate action and see the productive benefits of our collaboration. GTR enables effective collaboration by allowing everyone to focus on productive activity, not the conflict.

The 7 Steps of the Resolution Process include:

One: ATTITUDE OF RESOLUTION – new thinking about conflict / agreement
Two: TELLING THE STORY – everyones uninterrupted turn to speak
Three: PRELIMINARY VISION – the focus on what would be fair to everyone
Four: CURRENT and COMPLETE – letting go and leaving the past behind
Five: AGREEMENT IN PRINCIPLE – what is the new relationship
Six: NEW AGREEMENT – details and plan for the new relationship
Seven: RESOLUTION – in action and productivity without “chatter”

Step 1. Developing the Attitude of Resolution

The ten principles of the new paradigm hold the values that make up the attitude of resolution. This attitude is the place of beginning, a critical first step This will not happen at once. It will take time to change the way you think. This is the foundational step. The goal is internalizing the principles.

Step 2. Telling Your Story

The second step is telling your story and listening to all stories, including yours. It is about understanding and being understood, one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that Dr. Steven Covey inspires us to cultivate6. If you learn to listen with a careful ear and honor everyone’s story about a situation, you take a big step toward getting to resolution.

Step 3. Listening for a Preliminary Vision of Resolution

The third step is to start thinking about a resolution that honors all concerns in the situation. It is about shifting from the desire to win and get your way to a vision that everyone can buy into. It comes from a sense of fairness. This initial vision may change as you gather more information and learn more. for everyone.

Step 4. Getting Current and Complete

The fourth step demands saying difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching things. It is about articulating what usually goes unexpressed and escaping from the emotional and intellectual prisons that keep us locked in the past. It is a way to face the good and bad in any situation and to experience and grieve for the disappointment of unrealized expectations. It is a way to put all of the detail out on the table-and choose those remnants that can be used to weave a new tapestry of resolution.

Step 5. Seeing a Vision for the Future: Agreement in Principle

Now that you have a preliminary vision, along w ith the information and emotional freedom provided by the completion process, you are ready for the fifth step-reaching an agreement in principle. Having looked at what other people need and noticing the cracks in your righteous position, you are ready to reach a general understanding of the resolution. This is the foundation of a new agreement. You let go of the desire for what you know will not work, and you focus on what will.

Step 6. Crafting the New Agreement: Making the Vision into Reality

In the sixth step you put specifics onto the agreement in principle. You design and construct a detailed vision of the future. You have a map, a formula for the dialogue that will maximize the potential for everyone to obtain their desired results. The more time you spend in detailing the desired results, the greater the chance to realize them.

Step 7. Resolution: When Your Agreement Becomes Reality

The seventh and final step is moving back into action. With a new agreement and a quiet, clear mind about the past, you can freely move forward, devoting your energy and intention to currently desired outcomes. You will have a new and profound sense of freedom because you have spoken all the unspeakables. You have completed the past and constructed a clear picture of the future and of the highway that will get you there. You will be empowered by the process. You are resolved.

As you work with Resolution you learn how to recognize conflict patterns; discover and address everyone’s real concerns; honor differences, and legitimize all perspectives


The new MBA Impacts:

Working Relationships
Work Group Productivity
Vendor Relationships
Litigation / Employee Lawsuits
Diversity and Gender Issues
Creativity and Innovation
Mood and Attitude
Conflict Resolution
Customer Satisfaction

The nature of organizational life will not revert back to a state of hierarchy and order. Managing by Agreement is an effective alternative to chaos. It provides tools that serve, enhance, clarify and provide a structure within which you can “make it up as you go along” while fully allowing principles of self-organization to operate. I believe that the balance of “self-made” structure and self-organization can provide the context in which individuals and organizations will flourish. MBA produces clarity about where you are going, and the route you will take, before you move into action.


Stewart Levine

Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks that provides training, facilitation and conflict resolution services. This article is adapted from his book, Getting To Resolution (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1998)  The book is a selection of the Executive Book Club and was nominated as a top ten business book for 1998. MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Effective Use of Civil and Commercial Mediation in Poland: Part 1

1.   Polish Mediation Law of 2005 1.1.  Poland was one of the first EU Member States to enact a detailed and complete legislation on mediation in civil and commercial matters...

By Sylwester Pieckowski

ODR and Multiparty Consensus Building – from Cyberweek 2022 (video)

This session, from Cyberweek 2022 ( features Stacie Smith, Jan Martinez, Gina Bartlett, and Colin Rule discussing how technology has changed multiparty facilitation (and the work of the Consensus Building...

By Janet Martinez, Colin Rule

Mediation Advocacy Beyond the Norm

This article was published in the Detroit Legal News on October 27, 2017.When it seems like everything around you, globally and locally, is in a constant state of dysfunctional conflict...

By Paul Monicatti