5 Elements of the Win/Win Agreement


win-win agreement

You might have heard about thinking Win/Win or finding the 3rd alternative, but how do you really create an effective agreement?  In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey details the five elements of the Win/Win agreement.

But first, let’s step back and get to the essence of thinking Win/Win.

Think Win/Win is the habit of interpersonal leadership.  It goes beyond  transactional relationship, to transformational leadership, where the people and the relationship are transformed.

It’s the art of finding the 3rd alternative in action.

It starts by looking at the bigger picture, or creating one, and it flows from an abundance mentality.  You ask the question, “How can we both win?”  To do this, means looking beyond your self-interest, and looking for mutual interests and shared goals.  Integrity is the cornerstone that keeps you grounded in your values, and serves as a foundation for trust, and empathic listening helps you build the bridge of mutual understanding.

By using a Win/Win approach, you move from competition to cooperation and collaboration, and you can achieve better solutions.  The downside is it takes longer and is more work.  The upside is that the relationships, good will, and trust will serve you for the long run.

5 Elements of the Win/Win Agreement

According to Stephen Covey, the five elements of a Win/Win agreement are:

  1. Desired Results
  2. Guidelines
  3. Resources
  4. Accountability
  5. Consequences

Desired results are the what you want to achieve and when.

Guidelines are the parameters such as any principles or policies that guide how you achieve the results.

Resources include the people, budget, technical resources, and any organizational support to help achieve the results.

Accountability sets the time frame and the standards of performance to expect.

Consequences are the good and bad things that happen or will happen as a result of the evaluation.

Transform your relationships and yourself by going for the Win/Win.

Image by Kheel Center, Cornell University.


  1. Good one. I am using most of the elements both at work and in life. Thank you for reminding it and putting it tightly in a clean frame. Easy to follow and act upon it.

  2. @ Alik — Thank you.

    As I revisit Covey’s classics, I’m amazed by his precision and depth. He knows how to transform soft skills into powerful capabilities.

  3. Hmmm, I guess I better pull that book off my shelf and give it another read.

    It’s been a long time. And I’m sure I’ll gain much more insight now that so many life experiences have come and gone.

    Thanks for the nudge.

  4. @ Michael — Covey somehow managed to be timely, timeless, and ahead of his time.

    He was a true master of principles, patterns, and practices, and he had an amazing ability to share his truths in a deep and pervasive way.

  5. Apologies. I am struggling a little to see what it is that makes this ‘win-win’. I might be missing something, but to me it seems to be weighted around what the instigator wants – as in “This is what I want you to achieve, by when, within the following guidelines, using the following resources, to the following standards, and these are the consequences of doing/not doing it”. Please can you provide a bit more info to help me understand things from the recipient’s point of view? Many thanks.

  6. @ Martine — It’s worth reading the book to get the full elaboration.

    That said, you could use the same elements for a Win/Win or a Win/Lose depending on how you approach it. The Win/Win starts from the mindset and approach before you work through the agreement, and carries through while you work towards the agreement.

    The essence is this: You co-create the elements vs. throw them over the wall, or push them down.

    The other thing to keep in mind, you don’t create an “agreement” or “buy-in”, just an “ask”, if you stop at the “I” language. It’s the “We” language that transforms it: “This is what we want to achieve, by when, within our following guidelines, using the following resources, to our following standards, etc.”

    That said, there is value in at least getting clear on what you want, and you can lead the way, if that helps the other people involved follow your lead and share what they want out of it.

    Also, keep in mind, what makes this work is looking for the mutual purpose. When you find that, the tactics above help you get to specifics.

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