Have you ever been assigned to a team and thought it was a waste of your time? Or been named “team leader,” but unsure where to start? Or found yourself on a team that’s floundering or falling apart, unable to work together?
If so, it’s time to go back to basics.
It may seem impractical (even silly) in some work settings, but the best thing you can do is take time to create a team charter.
“For teams to be successful, they need to have a basic understanding of why they exist, where they fit, and how they’ll accomplish their objectives,” says CCL’s Laura Quinn. “The process of talking through the team’s purpose, context, roles and how people will work together will boost your efficiency in the long run.”
A team retreat may feel like a relic from the past in some companies, but it’s important to set aside several large blocks of time for the team to work on the charter. During your planning sessions you, or another team leader, will want to walk members through key questions, capturing responses on flip chart paper or other visible way. Consider rotating the facilitation and note-taking roles as team members discuss:
- Team Purpose: What kind of team is this (work team, project team, management team, coordination team)? Why does the team exist? What “work” does the team do? What topics belong “in” this team and what’s “out?” What is the team responsible for accomplishing?
- Context: Who are we accountable to? With what other groups/teams do we connect? What do they want/need from us?
- Goals: What specific results do we expect from our efforts? What outcomes? (cost, quality, speed, service, quantity, coordination of X, innovation of X) How can we measure that?
- Roles: Who is on the team? What perspective does each member bring? Are there special roles (e.g., leader, facilitator, etc?) or sub-groups within this team? What do subgroups require of us?
- Work Processes: What processes will we use to do the team’s work? (step by step) How often will we meet? Who determines and manages our agenda? How will we connect with our stakeholders and other sponsors of our work?
- Decision-Making: What decisions are made within this team? What is out of bounds? What level of decision-making responsibility do we have? What decision process will we use?
- Communication: How will we communicate and connect to others within the organization?
- Norms: What do we expect of each other? How do we agree to handle conflict? What are our team norms and/or operating principles?
Once you’ve tackled the topics above, have a person or subgroup combine the team’s agreements into a single document. A written team charter can be creatively displayed in your team’s work area, posted electronically and referred to in meetings and discussions.
Periodically, the team will want to go back to the charter and consider these questions:
- How well did our work actually reflect our stated purpose? Did we get distracted or did we stay true to our purpose?
- How well did we meet the needs of this team? Did we meet stakeholders’ expectations? Did we coordinate well with others who rely on our work?
- Did we reach our intended goals? Do the measured results of our work demonstrate that? What got in the way of us being as successful as we might have been?
- How clear were roles on this team? Did we make good use of a variety of perspectives? Were roles executed well?
- Were our work processes effective? Did we stick to what we had agreed to in our charter? Why not? What new processes might help us be more effective?
- Were decisions made efficiently and effectively? Did we include the right amount of input? What surprises or frustrations did we encounter, if any? How might we do it differently?
- How well did our communication plan work? Did we stick to it? What methods worked particularly well? Where did we not do so well?
- How well did we live within the norms we created? Did they help us achieve our objectives? What norms do we want to add? Delete? How can we be better in the future?
Team Work, Defined
Is your project team a team? Is it really a work group? Does it matter?
Defining the word “team” may seem academic, but it helps you to be clear about your work and what kind of team is needed. Different kinds of work require different ways of working. For example, a group that periodically shares information is different than a multi-disciplinary team whose work is integrated or a project team trying to solve a complex problem.
Here’s what you need to know: The more interdependent the group, the more complex the work, and the more diverse the group’s goals, the more attention must be paid to how the team functions.