Forming a new team can be an exciting endeavor. With the creative energy that comes from starting something new, team members may be tempted to dive straight into the work. But before the work begins, new teams should take some time to create a charter—a written agreement that establishes the purpose and goals of the team.
Set aside a reasonable amount of time for the new team members to meet and draw up a charter. Depending on the type of team and expected length of time the team will be working together, you may need an afternoon, a full day, or even a retreat. For a short-term project, a couple of hours may suffice. The goal is to give the team enough time to discuss, define, and write down its charter.
As discussion proceeds, be sure to frame the charter around the following considerations:
1. The team’s purpose
Be very clear about the team's purpose from the beginning—otherwise, “scope creep” is almost inevitable. This process may involve some brainstorming and discussion, but it’s essential that all team members understand and agree with the team's central purpose. For some teams, this process may be simple, or it may be defined simply by the formation of the team itself. It’s still important to agree to the purpose and write it down.
2. The team’s stakeholders
List and agree on the five main stakeholders or customers who will receive value from the team. In addition, clarify how those five stakeholders will determine value. These stakeholders could be internal, external, or a combination of both. Consider such questions as “Who will be responsible for the team?” and “Who should be informed or consulted as we work?”
3. The team’s targeted results
Create a scorecard for the business and people results that the team will target. What are the significant activities, timelines, deadlines, or milestones that the team will target? How will the team know that it’s been successful? By clearly setting goals and targeted results ahead of time, everyone will aim toward the same ends, and there will be no temptation to move the goalposts.
4. The team’s behaviors
Establish from the beginning what team behaviors everyone expects from the others. Discuss how and when you will communicate, how you will hold each other accountable, how you will approach recognizing others, etc. Define any “ground rules” for working together. Make sure that you have buy-in from everyone before the work begins.
Depending on the team’s purpose, duration, and goals, members may want to include other items in the charter. For example, an engineering team may wish to establish what resources to use or which documents or software it will use for tracking. Another team may want to take time to define specific terms or vocabulary to avoid confusion as they work. The team’s charter can, and should, be highly specific and customized around the four considerations above.
Finally, once the team has agreed to everything in the charter, ask everyone to sign it and celebrate! Your team now has a robust and solid foundation for team success.