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Building a Team Charter

March 1, 2009 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

As summer is drawing to a close and your team is gearing up for the fall, do you feel that everyone is working together as productively and effectively as possible? If not, then a Team Charter may be the answer to get everyone on the same page and moving forward with new enthusiasm and understanding.

What is a Team Charter?

Simply put, a Team Charter is a plan of how the team will work together; an agreement involving everyone to set values, achievable standards, and protocols for the team.

Why is a Team Charter important?

With everyone being involved in this critical activity, the team will change from one that relies on policy and job description to one that bases its actions on team work and values. The process of creating this document will build team spirit and enthusiasm for the team’s goals, enabling every member to see the bigger picture and suggest ways to apply it to their everyday work. The Team Charter can be the vital link between the vision of the organization and the daily work of getting things done.

The charter also serves as a useful document to share with new team members, as well as other teams. This charter will make it easier for new team members to get up and running faster by explaining processes and communication team norms which are usually not written down and would take time to figure out. As for other teams in the organization, sharing your charter will give a quick and easy overview of what your team does, who is responsible for what area and how the team operates. This sets a benchmark for others and decreases mis-communication and false expectations.

Team Charter Elements

Each Team Charter is unique and should be designed to meet the specific needs of your team. The creation of the document is an important process in helping to flush out and note down how the team operates. The process is not meant to be long and onerous, it should result in a practical and useful living document to be revisited on an as needed basis. As a general guideline here are some suggested elements to consider for building your Team Charter:

  • A Team Mission Statement describes the reason the team exists.
  • Team Values speak to team approach to doing business and treating others.
  • Team Goals defined on a quarterly and annual basis will allow the team to measure their performance and benchmark themselves towards constant improvement.
  • Team Norms and Communication set out an agreed upon plan for how the team will interact, make decisions, resolve conflict and relay information.
  • Team Scope defines what is within and outside the scope of the team.
  • Including a Team Org Chart will make it easy to see the layout of the team and understand how everyone fits together.
  • Defining the Roles, Responsibilities, and Strengths gives an overview of each team member’s contribution, unique skills and strengths.
  • Creating a list of fun Team Event ideas can serve as an easy reference to be used when appropriate. These events allow the team to build and strengthen their working relationships.

How to Create a Team Charter

As mentioned, each Team Charter is customized and specific to your team; therefore the process of how you create your Team Charter depends on the purpose. Here are some helpful tips and hints for you to consider:

1. Define the Purpose

First of all, it is important to define why your team is creating a Team Charter at this time. What purpose is should serve will determine which elements your charter needs to include in order to be a useful and relevant document within your organization. Clearly defining what the end result needs to look like will in part determine the process your team should use to get there will.

2. Use a Facilitator

It is recommended that the team uses a facilitator either to kick start this process or to walk the team through the creation of each charter element. The role of the facilitator is to act as a neutral third party and provide a framework and process for helping the team achieve its goals. The facilitator ensures effective team processes are used and that the relevant content is generated.

3. Expectations of Team Members

This is a team undertaking to empower and engage the team in working together more effectively. As such, the expectations are that the team will generate the content, attend and participate in all appropriate Team Charter meetings, establish and maintain the charter, and provide feedback to each other about any improvements and changes needed.

4. Timing

The creation of this document is an important and empowering process for a team to go through. We encourage teams to set aside one or two days per year to create the Team Charter. This will help them set the course for the year not only strategically, but also tactically. A Team Charter can give the team a set of concrete processes and goals, against which they can measure real progress.

Alternatively, this process can also be done in stages during team meetings over a specific time frame such as two months. The process of creating the Team Charter will motivate the team to integrate workplace principles with strategic goals.How to Create a Team Charter

The Process Can Be More Important Than the Outcome

The creation of a Team Charter can lead the team towards becoming a model for others within the organization and actively promote a new approach to working together as a team to affect real change. The process of creating this document, going through each element, for example setting team norms, will lead to more supportive communication and a conflict resolution process designed by, and specific to your team. This in turn leads to renewed team spirit and aspirations towards team goals, the hallmarks of what makes a high performing team.