When you add a new member to your team, you need to be clear about the arrangements. This is what a contract helps you achieve. In many contracts, other documents are referenced that are then also part of the arrangements. For instance, a personnel guide or a Code of Conduct. You can read more about that here (contract) and here (annexes). All these things are written and signed off by both sides.

Additional arrangements during the work

But during the time someone is part of your team all sorts of additional arrangements are made that are very often not written down. And this is, in my view, a mistake. For me, writing is important for clarity.

Always think of the WHY?

It may seem bureaucratic to write everything down and add all that stuff to your staff files or some other record. Surely, I know that we all have better things to do with our time than pushing papers from one place to another.

That is why it is always good to think about the why.

What aim is served by writing things down and making them explicit?  And what aim is served by keeping things informal and flexible?

Or: what could go wrong? And how would written or informal arrangements help in that situation?

In other words, why would you write it down and formalize it or why not?


One important reason not to formalize things could be sensitivity. Maybe it is dangerous for one of the parties if it became known that they had an agreement with the other. For instance, in the case of a human rights defender it may be dangerous if there is a paper trail showing a relation between them and an organization that is considered illegal in the country where the human rights defender is active.

This is of course luckily more of an exception than a rule.




Very often, what I see is that the manager feels it is not needed to formalize things outside of the regular formal arrangements. The team member goes along with this (because what else can they do). They often assume that some notes are kept of what was discussed even though they don’t see or sign them.

It may indeed seem overly bureaucratic to take time to write certain things down and exchange this for joint approval.

What if… you’re gone?

But …. imagine someone else is taking over your job. And your team member tells them you agreed that they could take part in a course during their working hours. What if the new manager does not believe it? They don’t know all the background of this arrangement and don’t have document proof of it. And what if they then say no to this. Does that seem fair to your team member? Or to the new manager who will be perceived as ab unreliable person who breaches agreements they should honour?

Yes, this happens

This may seem like a far-fetched example. But I have experienced it often enough. Issues that were not documented included arrangements for housing, professional development, salary raises, bonuses, reimbursement of costs, return of equipment when moving to another job, and leave.

Each of these were very important issues for the team member concerned. And none of them were documented at all. Without well-kept staff files, I had no way of even understanding the background of any of those possible arrangements.

Keep the trust

You can imagine how this destroys trust in the organization, if such information gets lost between the cracks. It does not matter that the team member also had no document or email to prove their position. Team members tend to attribute superhuman powers to their managers when it comes to sharing relevant information about them. And they were fully confident that there must be a note about it somewhere.

So this is an easy way to make life for a new manager challenging (to say the least) and to break trust in the management.

So if you are keen to avoid that kind of situation, and want to focus on your mission instead of internal trust issues, write down everything that is important to your team members.

My key tips

  • Writing things down helps you be clearer in the arrangements as well. What, when, how, are not always formulated clearly when talking, you’ll notice!
  • Formalizing can also take the form of an email conversation that confirms agreement on something. If you print this as pdf and add it to your staff files, it can be sufficient document proof in many cases.
  • Clarity is not always best served by more words!
  • It is important to make sure that both sides understand the written words the same way.

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