Take the Time to Define Your Purpose

Have you ever been assigned to a team only to find it was a waste of your time? Or been named “team leader” but had no idea 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 get back to basics.

It may seem impractical or even silly in some work settings, but the best thing you can do is take the 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. A team charter is a document that defines your team’s overall objectives, resources, and constraints. Here’s how to create a team charter.

How to Create a Team Charter

While scheduling a team retreat is probably unrealistic, it’s important to set aside a large block of time for the team to work together on your charter. During your planning session, you or another team leader should walk members through key questions, visually capturing responses on a flip chart or other display. Consider rotating the facilitation and note-taking roles as team members discuss the following components of a team charter:

  • Team Purpose: What kind of team is this exactly (a 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 is the team 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 the team? What do subgroups require of us?
  • Work Processes: What processes will we use to do the team’s work? (List them out, 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 with each other, and connect to others within the organization? For some tools your team can try out to improve communication, see 3 Tools for Teams.
  • Norms: What do we expect of each other? How do we agree to handle conflict? What are our team norms and/or operating principles? For help, see 10 Steps for Establishing Team Norms.

Use the Team Charter to Stay on Track & Meet Your Objectives

Once you’ve tackled the topics above, designate a person or subgroup to combine your team’s agreements into a single document. Display the team charter in your work area, post it electronically for easy reference, and refer to it in meetings and discussions.

Periodically, encourage your team to refer to your charter and ensure you’re meeting your objectives. Consider the following questions.

  • Does our work reflect our stated purpose? Have we gotten distracted, or are we staying true to our purpose?
  • Are we meeting the needs of our team? Are we meeting stakeholders’ expectations? Are we coordinating well with others who rely on our work?
  • Are our roles clearly defined and executed? Are we making good use of a variety of perspectives?
  • Are our work processes effective? Are we sticking to what we agreed to in our charter? Why not? What new processes might help us be more effective?
  • Are decisions being made efficiently and effectively? Are we including the right amount of input? What surprises or frustrations have we encountered? How might we do it differently?
  • How well is our communication plan working? Are we sticking to it? What methods are working particularly well? What are we not doing so well?
  • Are we living within the norms we created? Are they helping us achieve our objectives? What norms do we want to add? Delete? How can we be better in the future?
  • As we reach our intended goals, do the measured results of our work demonstrate that? Is anything getting in the way of us being successful?

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