A team charter—sometimes called a team contract—establishes ground rules for how you work together as a team.
- Let's face it, most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families which is why our work relationships are so important. Whether you're leading a task force, committee or panel, we often find ourselves working in teams with other people and communication is key in developing and maintaining healthy work relationships. These relationships are critical for getting the job done well. In fact, according to former Team USA and Duke University basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, "effective team work begins and ends with communication." Even when teams have common objectives and goals, there's often friction and tension that's tied to miscommunication.
Poorly managed communication within a team can easily lead to negative task outcomes and while communication within a small subset of people seems like it should be easy, it isn't. Very simple concepts can be perceived differently. For example, if I say the word apple, what image comes to mind? Many people would see a round, red piece of fruit. Others see a similar object but green.
However, there are also people who think of the company, Apple. Obviously, all three are correct. Because something so simple can be thought of in so many different ways, it's important to make sure your team has the same understanding and expectations about the much more complicated work that you'll tackle. The most effective teams invest a small amount of time, usually less than an hour, to get everyone on the same page. A team charter will help you do just that.
It's an important tool to establish expectations, boundaries and help your team stay focused. This document establishes team membership, defines your purpose and outlines how you'll work together. Let's take a look at membership and the purpose of the team charter now and we'll explore the other areas of the team charter later. The Exercise Files provide an example charter and a template for developing your own team charter. You can use these handouts to help you think about how your team will work together by defining each person's role, determining how you'll make decisions, share information and resolve conflict.
While this process may seem time consuming particularly if you have a tight turnaround on project results, skipping this step can lead to miscommunication, wasted time, frustrated colleagues and rework that could have been avoided. Ideally, you'll want to develop your team's charter early in the process of working together. However, if you're already a part of an established team and need to clarify functions and objectives, it's not too late to create a team charter. This should be a living document.
What I mean is whatever you decide in your initial charter isn't set in stone. You can make adjustments to the document as needed. I often find that teams are overly optimistic early in the process and have to make revisions once they start working together. One of the first questions to think about is team membership. Who is on your team? What perspectives, experience and expertise does each person bring? Is there someone you need to add to round out the group or are there people who duplicate experience? You may not have a say in how your team is composed.
Whether or not that's the case, you'll want to give everyone clearly defined roles for the purposes on your specific team. The next section of your team charter is related to your overall objective. What is your team's purpose? Why has this group been convened? Think about what your team's key objectives are and write them out. Now that you've determined who should be on your team and what your team's purpose is, you're off to a great start in establishing a team charter.
By taking time to think through these details, you'll save yourselves time and frustration.
- Defining roles and commitments
- Managing conflict
- Establishing and maintaining trust
- Creating a shared vision and focusing on objectives
- Providing feedback
- Structuring time for reflection
- Holding teammates accountable
- Communicating in face-to-face and virtual meetings
- Communicating across job functions and across cultures