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The What, Why, and How of a Team Charter

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A Story of Challenge and Change (5 min read)

This is a short story about a situation I was in recently, that I know will be helpful for many of you out there. Here goes:

A Founder Looking for Answers

I was in a meeting recently with a business owner who was, let's just say, out of ideas for trying to get his team to work together.

He told me about how he’s got some great employees - both the long-term, loyal, productive kind and the newer, highly-talented, more formally educated kind - but they just can’t seem to figure out how to get on the same page.

And by “get on the same page,” I mean do the things they need to do to help the business function smoothly, and get the rest of the staff in a groove that can sustain the growth the company.

In other words, the team’s inability to communicate effectively is stunting the organization’s opportunity to take on new business and grow.

Now, this business owner is not just a good guy, he’s a great guy - and he’s built this business from the ground up. And he does not want to lose any member of his team. He considers them family, and he wants to keep the family together. 

Nothing Worked

He’s tried it all - team meetings, one-on-one coaching, implementing new processes, shifting roles and leadership responsibilities - everything he could think of. But nothing changed.

So he called me. And he shared his story - the same story I just shared with you. And I think I have a great plan to give his employees, his company, his family, the best chance of success.

And I want to share with you all the first major step in that plan, because I think that it has so much value for any team, any group of people brought together by a common goal.

It’s called a Team Charter. And if your team doesn’t use one, or you have never even heard of one, then stay with me because this has the power to transform your staff and drive the success of your organization for years to come.

Three Essential Elements to The Team Charter

There are many ways to conceptualize a team charter and its parts, but I try to keep it as simple and clean as possible.

A charter is an agreement: A team-directed methodology of alignment.

At the most fundamental level, it’s an “Let’s all agree that everyone must live and act according to these terms. Sign your name here” type of social and non-binding contract.

When I walk a team through the process, I like to explain the guidelines this way:

A Team Charter is comprised of three key elements. The Objectives, the People, and the Processes.

Each of the categories can be straightforward, but they can be expanded to scale to any sized or shaped organizational hierarchy. They can also be complex and extensive if desired.

A quick note: the charter process is the most effective with a small-to-medium sized team, and it is especially effective with teams that are comprised of remote employees.

A huge advantage of crafting a charter as a team is that it gets all the key players to the table, and forces them to negotiate terms and stand behind their preferences and convictions.

This can be therapeutic for dysfunctional groups because they have spent so much time viewing what they do as “making concessions to one another” that they cannot see how to “make compromises for one another.”

Sometimes, the first real compromise a team will make for one another, where the team is placed above any one personal agenda, will be in this meeting - and it’s pretty powerful.

Non-Negotiables for Your Charter Drafting Meeting

The Charter is a flexible construct, but there are a few elements that must be included in the initial stages of your Chartering:

  • All members of the team must be present or represented
  • Make sure that everyone at the meeting has a chance to speak, give suggestions, and offer feedback.
  • Make it clear that the group will not move on until everyone is heard. You can either
    • Have a more senior leader direct the meeting, or
    • have the group elect a leader, so that someone is tasked with keeping things productive and polite.
  • Even if you have a leader elected from within the group, the senior leader over the team should be there during the formation of the team’s Objectives to encourage, and to provide context and feedback.

How to Craft  Charter Objectives

Objectives (goals, initiatives, etc) need to be very specific to your organization and to the expressed purpose of the team and their efforts.

For example:

  • Increase customer satisfaction as measured by your post-interaction surveys by 5% for the quarter
  • Double B2B market share by introducing a scalable HR solution.

But your team might also have a “softer” needs:

  • Improve workplace morale and rapport
  • Realign interdepartmental communication and standardizing record-keeping practices.

Whatever objectives make sense, be sure to include these basic elements:

  • Specific deliverables
  • A timetable for completion (even if it is only just to have a clear target to aim at)
  • A schedule for progress reports

Once the goals are set, move on to the people.

  • What are the essential roles for this team given the set objectives, and who on the team is best equipped to fill them?
  • Do you need to assign back-ups, incase someone can’t complete a task, or gets sick?

And lastly, come to a collective agreement on how you are going to accomplish the Objective(s).

  • Set expectations for how communication will be handled within the group, as well as what progress reporting to senior leaders will look like.
  • Have the team decide on a protocol to address lapses in performance, and what consequences will result.
  • Have everyone agree to the terms, and make a formal promise to the rest of the team to abide by those terms.

Following the tips in this framework will allow your team to draft a successful Team Charter.

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