One of the biggest challenges for any leader, is to lead a new team to success. Moreover, according to Forbes, most leaders aren’t even creating environments where employees feel motivated or comfortable. So how do we give leaders the tools to not only motivate their team members, but to fully engage them as well? We don’t have to recreate the wheel here and it’s not rocket science. We can just fall back on the tried and true method of developing Team Charters.
Team Charters and project charters have been around for years, and I honestly could not find a reference which discussed their origination, or identified the first charter author. In any case, the Team Charter is one gold standard tool that is frequently forgotten or not adequately utilized.
What is a Team Charter?
A Team Charter is a set of agreements, designed by the team, which clearly states what the team wants to accomplish, why it is important, and how the team will work together throughout its’ lifetime. It also serves as a reminder to keep the team focused on its purpose and the end results.
The first step in developing a Team Charter is to call the team together and brainstorm the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’. The ‘whats’ are the deliverables the team believes it is responsible for, and to whom. For example, the ‘whats’ for an internal budget setting team will be much different than the ‘whats’ for a team who’s designing new product concepts for the next five years. The budget setting team may come up with ideas such as:
- a list of cost cutting proposals delivered to the management team
- a list of potential new revenue stream proposals delivered to the sales and management team
- a complete understanding of R&D costs.
The new product team, however, may include:
- a new product line in Europe to replace the current, dated one
- new customer service offering in the Southeast U.S. region
- re-design of product A for North America.
What follows is a discussion of WHY each of these ‘whats’ is important, AND, how each aligns to the vision and goals of the organization. If the ‘what’ or ‘why’ doesn’t align with the goals of the organization, then they should be put aside. This helps to develop the scope of the team’s activities and to develop a purpose statement.
The Purpose Statement
“The purpose statement should be designed by the team after brainstorming the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’. It should be a clear statement which answers the questions “Why does this team exist? What is the team delivering and who are they delivering to?”
Example purpose statements might be:
For a team that has been asked to develop new product concepts:
To develop a pipeline of new products for the Skinsoft Company in the facial skin care industry to generate $5 M in sales over the next 5 years.
For a team that has been asked to obtain and protect all patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets:
To develop international strategies for Techpoint businesses to protect all of their intellectual property.
The purpose statement is the north star for the Team Charter. It determines where you are directing your focus. You should be very careful to make it concise and narrow as possible so it is also clear what is out of scope for the team. For example, for the facial skin care purpose statement above, it would be obvious that body lotions and body sprays would be out of scope for this team. This helps tremendously in battling the ‘bright shiny object’ syndrome which causes many teams to lose focus.
The Team Charter must also contain team norms developed by the team. Team norms provide a mechanism for holding each other accountable to agreed upon behaviors. Some typical team norms might be:
- Assume positive intent of all team members
- Keep what’s best for the organization as our most important consideration
- We encourage constructive debate, are open minded to the position of others, listen generously and without defensive attitude
- Challenge each other
- Resolve conflicts quickly
Let the team decide what norms they will adopt. I had one team specify that mild cursing was allowed during team meetings, and everyone agreed. As long as it’s unanimous, it’s allowed.
Team values are about the culture we want to encourage, the standards we want, and the principles that underpin the team’s efforts. They are the essential building blocks of team building and are very important to include in the Team Charter. Team values may include:
- Be transparent about motives
- Be open to ways of different cultures
- Be an active listener
- Trust that people are trying to do the right thing
- Accept differences of your colleagues
Others to consider include a long list, such as dependability, reliability, loyalty, commitment, open mindedness, consistency, honesty, efficiency, and the like. The key is to have the team put together the list in order to have buy in and commitment.
Team goals and deliverables
Once you have a clear scope of what the team is responsible for, you can set specific goals. Ensure that the goals are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound. Be very clear about how each team member is contributing to each goal, and who is responsible for attaining each goal. You, as the leader, are accountable, but someone else on the team is most likely responsible for making it happen.
Above all, make absolutely sure that you include timelines in your Team Charter. If you don’t include a time element in your goals, then they are just wishes, not goals. Moreover, the Team Charter should include a timeline of key milestones, deliverable due dates, communications, meetings, stage gates and any other significant event that is imperative to the success of the team.
Core Team Members, roles and responsibilities
Many times, team members are not completely clear about their role on the team. Especially new people to the organization, or people who are new to the members of the team. In order to be crystal clear, develop a complete list of the Core Team Members, their contact information, their role, and what responsibilities they hold within the team while you are developing your Team Charter. Again, you are designing this Team Charter as a team, wherein everyone has input, agrees to the elements and commits to the final product. What better way to ensure that everyone knows and agrees to their responsibilities.
One particular area that doesn’t typically get much attention is the team agreement for how decisions will be made within the team. Will it be by consensus, by majority vote, by 2/3 majority vote, or does the team leader have final say after hearing input from the team? It’s so important to have this understanding up front, before any issues arise, so that everyone knows what to expect, and what their role is in the decision-making process.
Barriers to Success
Lastly, it’s very helpful to acknowledge, as a team, what barriers you all see to team operation and success. Typical barriers might include:
- Time differences between locations
- Priorities and other responsibilities in team member’s day to day jobs
- Buy in and commitment from other leaders or colleagues
- Communication and cooperation between departments
Discussing those barriers and asking team members to be aware of expectations in spite of the barriers, helps mitigate them.
If you want to be really strong about using the Team Charter to hold the team accountable, ask each team member to sign it as well. We tend to take things more seriously and with higher commitment when we put it in writing and sign our names to it.
We have our Team Charter, what’s next?
Now that you have a complete Team Charter, you have an easy and efficient tool for onboarding any new members, and for holding team members accountable as you work together.
The real work begins now in moving your team forward and keeping them focused. In reality, this takes more energy than developing the Team Charter itself. If you kick off with a Team Charter, including team goals, it’s important to keep your momentum. Following are some tips to keep the team moving forward and focused:
- Always ensure your meetings are highly effective and efficient
- Always have an agenda for every meeting, sent in advance to all team members
- Keep the Team Norms at the front of every agenda for easy reference
- Start and Stop on time to respect others’ time
- Note action items and due dates, and include in the meeting minutes
- Review action items from previous meetings and hold team members accountable
- Send meeting minutes soon after the meeting
- Arrange for follow up with anyone who was absent from the meeting
- Address any new barriers or performance issues immediately
I know it’s not rocket science. It’s discipline. And it’s necessary to accelerate your team’s success.