Developing a team charter


YOU ARE CORRECT. The title does not say Corporate Charter or Department Charter or even Project Charter, but Team Charter. This article takes the concept of a “charter” down to the team level.

A charter is defined as “a document issued by a (body) outlining the conditions under which a (body) is organized, and defining its rights and privileges” or as “a document defining the formal organization of a body.” The Project Management Institute, in its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, defines a project charter as “a document issued by senior management that provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.”

It is not unusual to prepare a charter document that defines the mission and the deliverables of the project. But how often do we recognize that the team as an entity also needs a charter of their raison d'être, their goals or mission as a group, their roles as individuals within the team, and the operating agreement under which the entire team will work?

Let's work through a process that would lead to a team charter.

Positioning. In the first session to develop a team charter, the team needs to start creating the atmosphere and the attitudes for the deeper discussions yet to come. This should take on two aspects: the first is to address the project, i.e., the forum in which the team is going to work; the second is to start getting to know one another as future team members.

The first part of this icebreaker session is to state (or restate) the project's charter or mission statement. It is crucial that all members of the team are clear on the background, goal, and deliverables of the project itself.

Once a comfort level has been reached around the tangible focus of the job that needs to be done, move on to the team relationships and dynamics. Some ways to set the tone: Have each person describe the best and the worst team that they have ever been on—for example, the best team always treated each other with respect, or the worst team always felt tense and unfamiliar. Draw a picture of what a team looks like—for example, a ship with a captain, a navigator, a crew, etc. Provide a metaphor for a successful team and what makes it successful—possibly related to sports or family or music. Ask each person to tell something personal about themselves—are they skydivers? addicted to M&M‘s? It's amazing how these small tidbits become a recurring and friendly theme.


One part of the first session has the team members look at what makes effective or ineffective teams and how this team is different from their day-to-day operational environment. Take the description of an effective team and make it the “model statement” of this team.

The next part of the agenda needs to set expectations and to address why the team needs a charter, what areas will be covered during the following sessions, and how the charter will be used as the project evolves.

Why the team needs a charter. Share with the team the appropriate rationales described above and add any others you can think of.

What areas will be covered. The team will develop a values statement, a mission statement, and an operating agreement.

How the charter will be used. This charter will be made into posters and will hang on the wall during team meetings, and if any of these values, mission or operating agreements are violated, the team will change their charter or correct their actions to comply with the charter.

Values Statement. If you ask people, out of the blue, “What are your values?” they often respond with statements like “To be successful” or “To create the best end product.” These are laudable, but they are not values. In the second session, to help people focus on values, direct them to finish the following sentences: The three people that I most admire are…; The characteristics that I most admire in each of these three people are…; The following traits in people irritate me…; The values of the company in which I want to work are…; The qualities that I most appreciate in people with whom I work are…; I am most proud of myself when I…; I am trying to improve the following personality traits in myself… .

From this self-analysis, each of the team members should see a recurring theme and thus have isolated the characteristics and values that are important to them. These values might be respect, or professionalism, or common courtesy. We would hope that the team members now feel comfortable enough with the group to share these personal values.

From these values, first comes further insight into each of the team member's likes and dislikes, and also comes the ability to compile and consolidate these values into a “team value statement.” The team value statement might include something like this: We will follow the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We will attempt to leave our silos and work for the good of the team. We will support other people, even if there is no direct credit to come our way.

Mission Statement. The mission statement is the vision of what the team is trying to accomplish—not project deliverables, but the unique chemistry that the team can create. In the third session, the team needs to answer questions about mission: What are we doing as a team, beyond the obvious creation of a thing or service or a system? Why have we been chosen as a team to do this particular project? What can we uniquely do to affect the success of this project?

This might be a perfect time to have the team members go away and consider how they would write the team's mission statement and return with a strawman from which to work. The various strawmen are reviewed, consolidated, refined and wordsmithed by the team until a final team mission statement is completed. The team mission statement might include statements such as the following: We will set a company precedent for good communication by providing our project stakeholders with the most timely and accurate information concerning the project. We will create an environment in which lessons learned are shared and captured for future projects within the firm.

Goal Statement. Now that the team has created a lofty mission of what they are contributing to the organization as a whole, during the fourth session they create goals for the team members themselves. These goals focus on the short term (within the duration of the project) and the long term (after the team is disbanded). For example:

Short Term. We will enjoy each other and work hard when it's time to work and play when it's time to play. We will support others’ learning relative to each other's discipline or to each other's organizational unit within the business.

Long Term. We will want to work with each other again after this is all over. We will show the rest of the organization that project management tools and techniques are helpful when running a project.

Operating Agreement. In the fifth and last session, the team decides how they will work together. What are the rules? There are often things that grate on people's nerves that they never really pinpoint or that they never have a forum to articulate after the irritation has been going on for some time. The beginning of the project is the best time to get these irritations out on the table.

Here are things that the team members ought to think about as they develop the team operating agreement: What do we need to give to and get from each other in order to be able to do our own individual jobs within the project? What are the rules for meetings? What ways will we or will we not treat each other?

Some items that might be included in a team operating agreement regarding meetings: Meetings will start and end on time. Food and drink are/are not allowed. Agendas will/will not be passed out ahead of time. Interruptions will/will not be permitted. (This list can go on and on.)

Regarding communication, the operating agreement should include: Identify and communicate possible conflicts clearly and immediately. Notify members of any schedules or budgets that may not be met by a 10 percent variance. Don't assume; ask questions. Be responsive to communications. Be ready to back up all statements with facts. Respect confidentiality.

Personal courtesies are important in any relationship. The operating agreement might include statements such as: Nothing is a fact until proven; avoid premature conclusions. Treat each other with dignity. Corporate rank does not exist in the team, especially in meetings. Agree to disagree. Be flexible and willing to change if properly influenced.

THETEAM HAS NOW CREATED a doctrine to work by—a charter that includes a model statement, a values statement, a mission statement, a goal statement, and an operating agreement.

The process of creating the team charter is equally as important as a team building exercise as it is to create the deliverables enumerated above. People get to know each other, and become sensitive to each other's likes and dislikes, values and principles. What better way to rivet a group of people together than to empower them to build their own “civilization”—the norms upon which a body of people organize themselves and the precepts upon which they operate and grow. img


Joan Knutson is founder and president of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management training and consulting firm. She can be reached at 415/955-5777.

PM Network • August 1997



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