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The Team Charter: A Blueprint for High Performing Teams

By November 6, 2023No Comments

Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding. ― Daniel Coyle

Great teams don’t happen by accident. Instead, they are built upon a foundation of trust amongst all team members. For enduring success, this trust must be deliberately built, consciously cultivated, and continually reinforced. A critical step in building a great team is taking the time to define what the team stands for and what is expected of each team member. This can be achieved by developing a Team Charter.

What is a Team Charter?

Simply put, it’s a Playbook that describes your team’s identity, roles & responsibilities, and working methods. It provides clarity on what is expected, who is responsible for what, and how problems will be resolved. A Team Charter democratizes accountability and increases interpersonal trust. It provides the framework for each team member to be accountable to and for one another.

Why do you need a Team Charter?

Most organizations have developed a strong set of policies and processes based on their mandate, but often there remain many unwritten rules that leaders and employees endeavour to navigate to accomplish their work. More often than not, it is a lack of clarity and consensus around these unwritten rules that lead to conflict and lack of overall team performance. A Team Charter is not another set of policies.  A Team Charter seeks to integrate policy with a definition of explicit team working methods to provide clarity on how the team will successfully work together. Team charters enable the following:

A Facilitator of Dynamic Discussion 

The team charter serves as a launchpad for ongoing dialogue and growth, constantly inviting team members to engage with it and adapt it to changing conditions. The charter is a product of discussions that detail the team’s purpose, mission, vision, and values.

Building a Culture of Trust

Team charters make explicit what is often left implicit. By clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and procedures, they remove ambiguity and set the stage for transparent communication. This helps in building a culture of trust among team members, as everyone knows what is expected and how they are accountable to each other.

A Vehicle for Conflict Resolution

Any team will have conflict, its human nature. However, a team charter provides an agreed-upon framework for resolving these conflicts. It can be referred to as a neutral ‘third-party’ during disputes, offering solutions that were initially developed and accepted by all team members.

Adaptive to Change

As the situation changes and as projects progress so do the team dynamics. A charter  can and should be reviewed and updated to reflect the current realities of the team. This makes it a flexible ever-growing tool that can be moulded to fit the changing shapes of teams and projects. A well-designed team charter is adaptable.

Onboarding and Offboarding 

A team charter simplifies both the onboarding and offboarding processes. New members can quickly understand the team’s dynamics, expectations, and their role in achieving the team’s objectives. Likewise, when someone leaves the team, the charter provides a structure for redistributing tasks and responsibilities.

What are the components of a Team Charter?

Your Team’s Identity

Successful teams are more than just a collection of individuals. Rather, they are a combination of the unique people that comprise the team and the grand purpose that justifies the team’s existence. These things represent your team’s identity. And understanding your team’s identity is a critical first step in developing your team charter. The building blocks of your team’s identity are it’s purpose, mission, vision, and values.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. – Andrew Carnegie

Roles and Responsibilities

If you’re a member of a team, it’s because you serve a purpose. You are responsible for outputs that, when combined with those of your colleagues, help achieve your team’s mission. When it comes to roles within a team, two key things are paramount:

  1. Every team member must have a crystal clear understanding about what’s expected of them. There must be clarity of roles, responsibilities, reporting mechanisms, and standards.
  1. A culture of accountability must exist within the team. You must be able to trust that your teammates are going to do what’s expected of them. Furthermore, you should expect to be held accountable for what’s expected of you.

Whether you’re on a sports team, in an office, or a member of a family, if you can’t trust one another there’s going to be trouble.  – Stephen M.R. Covey

  • Codified Behaviours

Good standardized working methods are commonly understood and accepted ways in which teams can work together. They help eliminate ambiguity by reducing certain activities into easy-to-follow steps or routines. This can range from how meetings are conducted to how interpersonal conflict is addressed to how files are electronically named and organized. When all team members are on the same page, it’s just more efficient and effective. Furthermore, when new people join the team, they don’t have to try and guess how things are done. Instead, they can refer to the team’s Playbook.

While some things can’t be reduced to standardized working methods, many things can. And these working methods should be explicitly clear, sufficiently comprehensive, and collaboratively agreed upon.

To make work productive requires building the appropriate controls into the process of work. -Peter Drucker

In the intricate dance of human interaction and team dynamics, a Team Charter is like the choreography that ensures every step, twist, and turn is executed with precision. It’s not about rigid structures, but rather providing a sense of direction, clarity, and alignment. When teams embark on their journey with a well-defined Charter in hand, they are better equipped to navigate challenges, celebrate successes, and ultimately achieve their objectives.

Cohesion happens not when members of a group are smarter but when they are lit up by clear, steady signals of safe connection. ― Daniel Coyle,

If your team hasn’t yet charted its course, if it isn’t lit up, it’s time to put pen to paper and pave the path for success and higher performance.