Working well in a team can often be the difference between project failure and success. One way to increase team cohesion is to develop a team charter that details how the team will work together to get the best result. This simple yet instrumental document encourages members to discuss and agree on how best to coordinate efforts towards their shared goal. It sets out expectations for behaviour and provides a framework for how the team will operate. To get your new team off on the right foot, or to reinvigorate an established one, developing a team charter is an ideal way to gain agreement and ensure everyone is on the same page. In this post (and this podcast) we look at how it’s done.
In essence, a team charter is a thoughtful set of ground rules that help guide the team in making decisions and approaching situations with one another. Some team charters include the mission objective, roles and responsibilities, stakeholder’s agreements, etc. However we’re looking at team charters as a principle or values-based set of statements which detail a shared model for behaviour that guides the way members interact with one another.
When starting out, we recommend giving team members an outline of what you'd like them to do. For example, ask them to think about how they want to behave towards one another. Ask them to come up with some must-haves they’d like to see in terms of sharing information, communicating with each other, providing feedback and approaching conflict or disagreement. See what statements come out and capture them in a draft document. We suggest spending no more than an hour with your team on the first pass, and either tagging this discussion onto a team meeting or holding a special meeting devoted to team charter development. It can then be revisited and modified into a final draft to be approved by all members or even signed, like a declaration.
Some teams will develop broad statements. Try to hone these by asking further questions. It’s essential that charter statements leave no room for interpretation. A team charter should guide people's actions and act as a checkpoint so people can reflect on their behaviour and gauge whether or not they behaved in the way that was agreed upon. It’s the team’s job to bring the charter to life. As a manager, you must ensure it’s kept relevant and regularly referred to, modifying it if needs arise. Try bringing it out every third meeting and asking everyone to check in on the terms of their agreement.
Another way to use the team charter is during one on one catch-ups. Here it can be the perfect entry point into conversations about an individual’s performance, expectations and reflections on interactions with fellow team members.
At People Leaders, we’re privileged to have helped a great number of successful teams come up with strong and directive team charters. For example, a finance team we worked with outlined the purpose of the team first, and below it wrote the purpose of the team charter as follows:
"The purpose of the team charter is to record how we agree to behave towards one another as a team."
Their principles included:
In another example, a customer service-oriented team we worked with in the UK divided their team charter into two headings – The What and The How – so it looked like this:
What we’ll do: "We're going to apply the customer test to all our decisions."
How we’ll do it: “One person will represent the customer in every one of our meetings.”
More real-life team charter statements include:
Though this isn’t a client example, we particularly like this team charter from business coach, David Dugan. Note how they have gone to the trouble of having it desktop published to show how seriously they take the ‘Rules of the Game.’
Creating a team charter is about bringing the team together and having everyone participate in the process. It’s about the conversations you have when you start looking at behaviours everybody can sign up for; how you want to behave towards one another, how you want to share information, how you want to settle disagreements, how you want to make decisions. Team charters may have similar ingredients from one team to the next, but they’ll always reflect the individual flavour of the team.
A well-written team charter will provide clarity and enhance communication and collaboration. By building alignment of values and expectations within the team, it will help you pave the way to deliver better results faster. For more real-life examples of team charter statements, follow the links below. And don’t forget, we love your feedback. If you have a team charter, or you’re feeling inspired to develop one, we’d love to hear how it helps your team.
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