team charter: magnifying glass looking at documents

Helen Monument explains how a team charter can be a powerful leadership tool

Why does your team exist? Because you have a common goal, right? If each team member is committed to those goals, you will be successful, right? Highly successful teams exist within an atmosphere that is focused on effective performance.

In Belbin’s description of the four stages of team development, engagement and commitment are imperative for the first stage, the forming of your team. One way to make sure that your team has a solid foundation is to create a team charter. This is only effective if the team creates the charter together. That way, everyone has a chance to give input, to feel engaged and committed to the team.

“A small team, committed to a cause bigger than themselves, can achieve absolutely anything.” ~ Simon Sinek

What Is a Team Charter?

A team charter is a written set of agreements that answers these questions:

  • Why are we here?
  • What’s important to our team?
  • How are we going to work together?
  • How will we communicate?
  • How will we behave?

What Should a Team Charter Include?

Your team’s vision and purpose

To be clear about this, you need to understand the vision and purpose of your organization. Where does your team fit into that bigger picture? How will your team’s activities fit with that picture? Define what it is you want your team to be recognized for.

Roles and responsibilities

To whom is the team accountable? Is there a sponsor or other stakeholders? What will each member bring to the team, and who will do what? What skills are required? A simple way to define this is to create a RACI chart. This can be a simple spreadsheet that shows who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. How will you measure your performance? List the team members’ names and roles in the charter so that you will increase commitment and enhance recognition.

Your team values, norms and behaviours

These need to be in sync with those of your company culture. How do you want the team to behave? Defining how the team will work together and treat each other is crucial to its success. This is where you’re looking for attributes like trust, respect, honesty, taking initiative, commitment, reliability, professionalism and taking responsibility. Whatever values you choose, by asking your team to commit to them, you increase the chance that they will be sustained.

Your team practices

Here’s where you look for agreements on how you will run your meetings, how often you will meet, how you will communicate with each other and what decision-making methods you will use (majority rule, consensus or leader-led). How will you share information? What tools will you be using to enhance your collaboration to ensure these practices run efficiently and effectively? You could also include agreements on how fast team members will respond to emails or phone calls, or in what situations you will need to meet face to face.

How to Create a Team Charter

It may be tempting when a team is newly formed to just get on with the important work, but if you spend some time on the charter before you start, you will save yourself heartache further down the line. A brainstorming session, with all the team members present, could take a whole afternoon. A larger team may need longer. What’s important is that everybody’s voice is heard.

These are some examples of the questions you could ask:

  • What is the purpose of the team?
  • How do you want the team to be perceived?
  • How do you want to be treated by your teammates?
  • What kind of behaviour could damage the team?

No ideas are rejected or judged in the brainstorming session, and everything is recorded. When the ideas dry up, the next step is to cluster them into the different aspects of the charter mentioned above. You could post these clustered groups for the members to read on a wall or electronic notice board and leave them for a week for everyone to consider.

Finally, at a follow-up session, you use the suggested words and phrases to create together a set of powerful statements that everyone agrees on. It’s important that consensus is reached on these statements.

Your charter must be concise, no more than two or three pages, and be visible to all the team members and to the organization. You could display it on the wall, or include it in a procedures manual, readily accessible electronically. You can find more examples of templates for team charters at http://www.templatelab.com/team-charter-templates/.

The World Administrators Alliance Team Charter

When the Interim Council of the WA-Alliance was formed, one of the first things we did together was create a team charter.

Objectives

We commit to working together, in full and open collaboration to fully meet the objectives of the WA-Alliance; to guide, influence, positively develop and elevate the global administrative profession and to build a global community to enable administrative professionals the world over to speak with one voice.

Values

  • We respect, trust and support each team member and their views, without prejudice.
  • We fully support the decisions of the team.
  • We raise concerns promptly and honestly.

Communication

  • We will speak as one voice.
  • We agree to listen and hear what is being said; we will learn how to suspend our assumptions.
  • We will offer and accept constructive feedback.


Teamwork and Collaboration

  • We will participate actively, contribute positively and not hesitate to share ideas and knowledge.
  • We will use the agreed tools for effective collaboration.

Accountability

  • We will take shared accountability for the success of the Interim Council.
  • We will cooperate to perform exceptionally on all tasks.
  • We will meet our agreed deadlines and commitments.
  • We will look for ways to improve and learn from our mistakes.

Behaviours

  • We expect all team members to come on time and prepared for meetings.
  • We respect everyone has something different to contribute and we are all equally valuable as individuals.
  • We acknowledge the difference between intention and impact and accept that our intentions are for the good of the team.
  • We care for each other by actively accessing and regulating the emotional intelligence of each member and the group.
  • We will foster a positive, open minded and realistic mind-set.

Measuring Team Performance

Performance management is a critical contributor to effective teamwork. Your charter will be effective only if you agree on how you are going to measure team and individual performance. Are the goals of each team member well-defined and SMART? Does each team member understand what is expected of them? Are the team goals taken into account for each employee’s annual performance review?

Having a team charter is a powerful tool for a team leader. When put in place, it ensures that each member of the team has contributed to and endorsed it, has agreed to the team goals, has agreed to demonstrate certain behaviours and has agreed their responsibility, accountability and standards for the team and its performance. The charter allows the team to be self-regulating. If anyone behaves or acts contrary to the charter, then they can be pulled up on it, not just by the team leader, but by any other team member simply by stating ‘This is not what we agreed in the team charter that we all signed up for.’ Ultimately, the team leader is responsible for enforcing the team behaviour.

With the team charter, you are setting expectations for each other; everyone has buy-in and everyone is accountable for the success of the team.

You are committing to a positive two-way dialogue and constructive peer feedback so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their own perspectives on how other team members are performing. There is also no misunderstanding or ambiguity about the team and what is expected of its members.

A Charter Is a Living Document

Be prepared to revisit your charter with your whole team to check that it is still relevant. Ask these questions:

  • Are we still going in the right direction to meet our goals?
  • Is our purpose still valid?
  • Are we communicating effectively?
  • Does everyone display the desired behaviours?
  • Are we making the most of our resources?
  • Is our decision-making process robust?
  • Do we need to adapt the way we handle changes?

New members may have joined the team, or goals, procedures or tools may change. New members may have new perspectives or different expectations and may bring in new ideas, but they also need to feel the same engagement and commitment as those who created the charter in the first place. You should not change your charter too often, however, or team members will not have time to adjust and adapt themselves to the agreed ways of working.

Building a clear, concise charter that everyone agrees on will banish frustration and confusion, enhance teamwork, set clear expectations, as well as increase trust, empowerment and commitment within the team.

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Helen Monument inspires and encourages Assistants to be the best they can be by sharing 30 years of experience as a management support professional. Her career has taken her from Secretary to Office Manager and Business Support Team Leader, so she ... (Read More)

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