Team Charters: The Best kept Secret of Successful Projects?

Team charter

When you’re planning or managing a project, the one thing you want, above all, is for it to go well. You want as few hiccups as possible, and you don’t want to spend your time fire-fighting a constant barrage of problems.

The unfortunate truth is that many project managers have given up on this dream and resigned themselves to the ‘fact’ that any project will inevitably have delays, significant problems and will be a source of stress. But this needn’t be the case – the problems that arise within a project are not inevitable, they aren’t due to fate or issues beyond individual control. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the problems that occur are due to miscommunication, misinterpretations and misconceptions within the team. While these are significant challenges, they are far from insurmountable, and there is a secret weapon which can help: Team Charters.

A Team Charter is a physical record of what the team view as important goals, behaviours and attitudes that all members will adhere to. It’s an invaluable tool for any project team (or any type of team) as it explicitly details the behaviours and accountabilities expected within a team. Often the assumption is that these things are already common knowledge within the team, but the truth is that unless they have been openly discussed, there is no way for individual members of the team to know what is expected of them, and there will be no accountability which is often a major cause of delays and inefficiencies. With a Team Charter, there is no room for ambiguity, and because all members of the team contribute and consent to what is captured in the Charter, everyone is accountable for maintaining it.

How to Create a Team Charter

Developing a Team Charter is typically the outcome of a formal Project Kick-Off session, as a fair amount of work needs to be done beforehand to make the resulting Charter effective and relevant. There is little point in having a five minute discussion with your team about desired behaviours and actions and turning this into a Team Charter, as this approach won’t allow for the full range of issues to be explored. This is why a Project Kick-Off meeting is important; it allows for a more in depth and valuable conversation to take place, and it is recommended that an outside party facilitates the process, to help keep the discussions on track and relevant.   Some of the things that are beneficial to discuss and explore include:

  • Models of effective team working and how they can be implemented
  • Individual perspectives on the team’s current position and suggestions for improvement
  • How individual team members prefer to work and how this can be incorporated for effective team working
  • Existing challenges within the team and/or project and ways to manage them
  • The overall mission and purpose of the team (typically relating to the project being worked on)
  • Agreed values for the team

All of this culminates in the creation of a formal Team Charter which acts as a physical reminder for all team members about what they’ve committed to, and how they expect one another to act.

Why do they work?

  • Drive accountability – the purpose of the Team Charter is to enable every member of the team to be actively involved in deciding on the future direction of the team and/or project, but with this power comes the responsibility of making this happen. As such every individual is accountable not only for adhering to the agreed charter themselves, but also encouraging other members to do so too.
  • Clarify expectations – mismatched or unclear expectations are one of the biggest pitfalls in establishing an effective project team and achieving outcomes; the designation of a Team Charter removes this ambiguity and makes it transparently clear as to what is expected of each team member.
  • Set clear vision, mission and values from the outset – if there’s one thing that brings a team together and helps them work more effectively it’s having a clear vision for the future, and that is one of the primary purposes of a Team Charter – to make it clear what everyone is working towards and why it’s important. Having the constant reminder of the team goal(s) will help encourage unity and harmony in working.
  • Creates a better understanding of the individuals within the team – in any team there will be a vast array of different personalities, and these differences are paradoxically what both makes a team and breaks a team. The difference is in how the unique strengths and skills of each individual are utilised and recognised. Creating a Team Charter offers the whole team the opportunity to better understand themselves as well as their colleagues, and again this clarity is what will help promote improved team working and enable the team to achieve their objectives.

The positive impact of Team Charters can in essence be summed up in one word: Clarity – clarity of objectives, roles and responsibilities, strengths and areas for improvement and how the team want to work together. Using this clarity and sustaining it as the team evolves is what enables a team to perform to their maximum, but still too few teams employ the approach which is why Team Charters remain the best kept secret of successful projects. However by making the effort to create a team charter, any team, whether new or long established, will notice the difference and everyone will benefit.