Team Charters

Getting Your Teams Off to a Great Start

Does your team know where it's going or how it's going to get there?

© iStockphoto/labsas

Working in teams can be fantastic – if team members work well together. However, if people are pulling in different directions, the experience can be awful. What's worse is that without sufficient direction, teams can focus on the wrong objectives, can fail to use important resources, can be torn apart with avoidable infighting, and can fail, with sometimes dire consequences for the organization.

Team Charters are documents that define the purpose of the team, how it will work, and what the expected outcomes are. They are "roadmaps" that the team and its sponsors create at the beginning of the journey to make sure that all involved are clear about where they're heading, and to give direction when times get tough.

For teams to get off "on the right foot", Team Charters should be drawn up when the team is formed. This helps to make sure that everyone is focused on the right things from the start. However, drawing up a team charter can also be useful if a team is in trouble and people need to regain their view of the "big picture".

The precise format of team charters varies from situation to situation and from team to team. And while the actual charter can take on many forms, much of the value of the Charter comes from thinking through and agreeing the various elements.

Tip:

At the start of a project, all is momentum and excitement, and people are eager to start work right away. This is where it's tempting to charge in to productive work. However, "failing to plan is planning to fail", as is failing to set objectives clearly. Time taken agreeing a team charter will be repaid many times over as the project progresses.

In particular, it will speed the process of forming, storming, norming and performing  , meaning that the team becomes effective much more quickly.

The precise format of team charters varies from situation to situation and from team to team. And while the actual charter can take on many forms, much of the value of the Charter comes from thinking through and agreeing the various elements.

Adapt the following elements to your team's situation.

  1. Context.
  2. Mission and Objectives.
  3. Composition and Roles.
  4. Authority and Boundaries.
  5. Resources and Support.
  6. Operations.
  7. Negotiation and Agreement.

Context

This is the introduction to the charter. It sets out why the team was formed, the problem it's trying to solve, how this problem fits in with the broader objectives of the organization, and the consequences of the problem going unchecked.

  • What problem is being addressed?
  • What result or delivery is expected?
  • Why is this important?

Example:

The team has been formed to increase cooperation and cohesion between a multinational company's business units in different countries.

The historic lack of cooperation between country business units has meant that they have ended up selling different parts of the company's product portfolio. This has undermined the company's ability to achieve economies of scale in manufacturing, and has lead to the R&D budget being frittered away across many different business areas. These are key reasons why the company has been losing out to competitors.

Mission and Objectives

This section is at the heart of the Charter. By defining a mission, the team knows what it has to achieve. Without a clear mission, individuals can too easily pursue their own agendas independently of, and sometimes irrespective of, the overarching goal.

Example:

The mission of this team is to develop a plan that increases cohesion between country business units so that, within three years, they are selling a common product range.

The next stage is to take the mission, and turn it into measurable goals and objectives. These are the critical targets and milestones that will keep the team on track.

When writing goals and objectives, consider using the SMART   framework (SMART usually stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). The key here is to make sure each objective can be measured, so that success can be monitored.

Example goals:

  • To interview country managers and product managers to identify why they think countries are not working together. Survey to be completed and presented to the CEO by 31 March.
  • To prepare first draft proposals, and present to CEO by 15 April.
  • To refine proposals, and present to regional management meeting on 25 April.
  • To present the costed plan to the CEO by 15 May.

Composition and Roles

Teams are most effective when:

  • They have members with the skills and experience needed to do the job.
  • Team members can bring experience and approaches from a range of different backgrounds.
  • They have enough people to do the job, but not so many that people get bogged down in communication (7 is an ideal number of people).
  • They have representation from involved functions, departments, units, or other relevant category of stakeholder (possibly including the team's client, and senior management.)

Look to your mission and objectives to determine who is needed on the team to make sure its goals can be accomplished.

Once you know who should be on the team, you need to look at what each person will do to support the team in its mission. While this may seem like overkill at the very beginning of team formation, it will help you

  • Match team members to roles.
  • Spot gaps in skills and abilities that are necessary for the team to reach its goals.

The best way to go about this is to list each team member and define the roles and responsibilities of each.

  • Who will be the team leader?
  • Who is the liaison between the team and the other stakeholders?
  • Who is responsible for what duties and outcomes?

Example:

The team will be made up of senior representatives from each of the four global regions, HR, the information systems department, the organizational structuring committee, and the finance team. This range of skills and knowledge will enable the team to understand the issues relating to individual countries, as well as developing solutions to the problems outstanding.

Sally Vickers will take the role of Team Leader. In that role she is responsible for:

  • Ensuring this Team Charter is abided by.
  • Managing the day to day operations of the team and the team's deliverables.
  • Managing the budget.
  • Providing support and assistance to individual team members.
  • Providing status reports to the CEO on a weekly basis.

Authority and Empowerment

With the roles defined, you now need to look at what team members can and can't do to achieve the mission:

  • How much time should team members allocate to the team mission, and what priority do team activities have relative to other ongoing activities?
  • How should team members resolve any conflicts between their day jobs and the team mission?
  • What budget is available, in terms of time and money?
  • Can the team recruit new team members?
  • What can the team do, what can it not do, and what does it need prior approval to do?

Example:

Sally, as team leader, has the authority to direct and control the team's work, and team members are allocated full time to this project, for its duration.

Resources and Support Available

This section lists the resources available to the team to accomplish its goals. This includes budgets, time, equipment, and people. In conjunction with the performance assessments, changes to the resources required should be monitored regularly.

As well as this, it details the training and coaching support available to the team to help it to do its job.

Example:

A budget of US$75,000 is available to cover travel and subsistence. This will fund travel for two team members to interview senior managers in major countries, with other interviews being conducted by teleconference.

The CEO will meet with Sally Vickers at 4:30pm every Monday afternoon for a progress update and to provide support and coaching appropriately.

Operations

This section outlines how the team will operate on a day-to-day basis. This can be as detailed or as minimal as the situation warrants. It may be comprehensive and detailed for a long-duration team, or limited to a few bullet points in a team that is expected to have a short life.

Example: Team Meetings

  • The first team meeting will be on Monday, 28 February at 2:00pm.
  • The team will meet every Monday afternoon from 2:00pm to 3:30pm for the duration of the project.
  • Each member is expected to present a short status report for the aspect of the project they are working on.
  • If a member is unable to attend, a notification must be sent to the team leader and someone else designated to report on the status and communicate further expectations.
  • A summary of each meeting will be prepared by Jim and emailed to all members by the morning following the meeting.

Negotiation and Agreement

A good Team Charter emerges naturally through a process of negotiation. The team's client establishes the Context and Mission. Objectives, composition, roles, boundaries and resources ideally emerge through negotiation between the sponsor, the team leader, the team, and other stakeholders.

Tip:

We're using the word "negotiation" here, although it may not seem to be that way! Three things are key to success here:

  • Discussion within the team and with the team leader to make sure that the mission and team charter are credible.
  • Assertive negotiation between the sponsor and the team leader to ensure that the mission is achievable, and that sufficient resources are deployed.
  • Support from the sponsor to ensure that these resources actually are made available.

While these may appear to be polite discussions between bosses and subordinates, negotiation is actually taking place in a very real way. Ultimately, the team needs to believe that the mission is achievable, and commit to it.

Last, but not least, comes approval. This is where all members of the team sign off on the Charter and commit to the principles it contains and the roles and responsibilities detailed.

This is a symbolic gesture that communicates full commitment to the mission and objectives. It also helps to create accountability to one another and to the organization.

Key Points

By negotiating a Team Charter at the outset of a project, you set up team projects for success. You ensure that everyone understands why the project needs to be carried out, knows what the objectives and measures of success are, and knows who is doing what, with what resources.

More than this, by negotiating the Charter assertively, all parties can shape the project so that it stands a good chance of success. Then can then commit wholeheartedly to the project's success.

Negotiating a Team Charter can also be useful as a way of sorting out a dysfunctional team. Objectives can be confirmed, goals structured and agreed, roles aligned, and resources can be recommitted. Finally, after fair negotiation, people can be asked to commit to the Team Charter, and can be managed appropriately.

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Comments (16)
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Handyd,
    Great to hear that you will be using a Team Charter as it such a valuable thing to have with a team. We are very often recommending managers discuss with teams and develop their own team charter to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

    If you want to 'check-in' regularly, perhaps that could form part of the charter whereby you all agree that you will review things on a regular basis (and what is that basis? quarterly? bi-annually?).

    We do indeed have many other resources around the site that can help with team management, performance, expectations and accountability. Are you interested in something specific? I'll be happy to suggest a few things.

    Midgie
  • handyd wrote Over a month ago
    I have yet to read all the comments, but I like (and plan to use) a charter creation process as I move into a leadership position on a new team. I wanted to see something about reviewing the charter - scheduling a time to assess how well teammates are doing in living in the charter, moving toward the goals, and achieving the mission. There may also be an opportunity to connect with stakeholders in this "check-in" process. I suspect that lives in another section of Mind Tools?
  • AnneE wrote Over a month ago
    You're right that Agile teams tend to iterate and evolve rather than having a pre-determined brief which they deliver on an ongoing basis. We use the agile development process here in Mind Tools.

    You'll find that drawing from both the project charter article: http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newPPM_57.php as well as the team charter article that you've mentioned will help you judge what needs to get covered in your team charter.

    I suggest that you focus on including the sections that help you define the 'frame of reference' for the team so that team members can comfortably work with the agile processes within it.

    Hope this helps.

    Anne
  • islam_sayed wrote Over a month ago
    I was wondering how the team charter might look like in the case of using Agile methodology for project teams?
    I believe the Team Charter with the length and breadth described might not fit very well with an Agile team that focuses more on "having things done" and "iterate and evolve". I am curious to know if you have an advice on Team charters within the Agile world.

    Thanks
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi TomekG,
    I wish you and your team the best!! Sounds like you are off to a great start. And I like your idea of confirming the mission and objectives to ensure your charter is indeed pointing the team in the right direction from the start.

    It's important too that you develop the Charter with your team and get their input. As you work with your team to develop the charter remember to help them understand the mission as well as you and your boss do. I think that's really important because otherwise people can get "lost" in their own day-to-day work and forget about the bigger picture.

    Please let us know how you do with your charter. It is a key document that you and your team will find very beneficial.

    Best!
    Dianna
  • TomekG wrote Over a month ago
    Hello,

    I've joined the Club only recently. I am starting building my new team. Currently it is a small team with only two people, anyway it is a team. One of the members is new to my company whereas the other one is switching from another team.
    I started working on the charter. Before I talk to my team and present it to them I want to share it with my boss to get some feedback if he agrees with my mission statement and objectives.
    I've never done before anything so formal like the charter. I believe it will help me!

    TomekG
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi David - stepping in as a new team leader is exciting and challenging. We look forward to supporting you in this new role.

    I concur with Midgie and believe that developing a Team Charter would be a great initial team building exercise. We also have a Team Effectiveness Assessment ( http://www.mindtools.com/community/page ... TMM_84.php ) that you can use to start thinking about areas of strength to build on and places to improve.

    And while you are at it, we have a fantastic article on building the trust of your new team ( http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... TMM_76.php ). I think between this and the Team Tools section you will find lots of great ideas and information on specific tools to use as you integrate into this team.

    Looking forward to "seeing" you around on the forums!

    Dianna
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Davidjpye,
    Welcome to the Club.

    I certainly would use team charters for an existing team if I were taking over. As the new manager, why not have some new ways of doing things? It gets everyone 'on board' from the start and sets the tone of how you want to proceed with the team, without going in and making big changes to what they do and how they do it!

    If you have any questions when you get into the role, why not post them up in the Cafe and see what ideas other members can offer to you. If there is anything I can help you with, just let me know.

    Midgie
  • davidjpye wrote Over a month ago
    Hi, I notice that a lot of focus given on this article is toward new teams being formed around specific short or medium term projects. Do you think that a team charter will work for teams that have been in place for a long time already ? I am about to take over a poor performing team, and I think a team charter at the outset of my appointment might help bring some cohesiveness.
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi ajoses, welcome to the forums. It's great to hear that you've made some real progress with team building. Creating a charter is a great first step. The situation you describe goes beyond a charter and into individual performance management. It's important to address it because one person's low performance drags the whole team down.

    We have some tools that I think you'll find very useful for this:
    Dealing with Poor Performance http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... TMM_80.php outlines a variety of ways you can begin working toward improvement with this person.

    Performance Agreements http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... TMM_71.php are a specific method that can be used to hold this person accountable for what he accomplishes. It's a great tool that you can use to outline exactly what you expect and the consequences if those expectations aren't met.

    And because a colleague touched on the idea of culture and it's impact on performance I think you might enjoy our article on a leaders mood ( http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... LDR_67.php ). It's a good article that I think helps us reflect on our role in the overall heath and performance of our team.

    Take a look at these resources and let us know what you think. And please keep us posted so we can continue to provide ideas and support while you work with this person to improve.

    Dianna
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