Charting a course for team success: the team charter

By Chelsea Schwartz

Posted on Mar 23 2020 | 1880 views

Charting a course for team success: the team charter

Working in teams isn’t always easy

We’ve all worked in teams that have struggled. Perhaps…

  • different members of the team seem to have different ideas of where the work is headed.
  • the team seems to have the same conversations over and over again.
  • the team misses deadlines on deliverables because there was confusion on who had agreed to do what.
  • there seem to be lots of “closed door conversations” and “meetings after the meetings”.

Sound familiar?

Working on teams can be hard. Trying to manage different perspectives and ideas can lead to friction, and at worst, interpersonal conflict amongst team members.  Negative team dynamics can in turn severely hamper progress towards a team’s goal.  However, companies that promote collaborative working are 5 times more likely to be high performing. What if you could set your team up for success and reduce the likelihood of your team slumping into unproductive negative team dynamics?

Getting teams on the same page

What we often see on the surface as interpersonal and relationship issues on a team are usually actually issues rooted in lack of clarity around goals, roles, or processes. How can a team get that much-needed clarity? With a team charter!

A team charter is a written document co-created by team members that helps clearly define the project and fosters upfront conversations about factors that have been shown to support team success. 

When all team members are on the same page about what they are working to accomplish, who is doing what, and how they will work together to achieve results, interpersonal conflict is less likely to occur.  Even when conflict does arise, investment in an upfront team charter conversation helps ensure that the team can address the issue quickly and effectively. 

At the Health Quality Council, many of our teams – both internally and externally (when collaborating with partners and stakeholders) -  use team charters to guide their work.

What exactly is a team charter?

A team charter is a written agreement a team builds and works on together.  In it, the team articulates a shared understanding of the problem they are working on, the roles and responsibilities of each team member, and how the team will work together.  Many team charters also include a section to discuss team values, which creates opportunities for team members to voice what’s important to them and ask for what they need from the rest of the team.  This conversation tends to go a long way in helping to build new relationships, establish group norms, and translate values into behaviours.  It also creates the groundwork for team members to hold each other accountable for deliverables as well as behaviours.  

The important aspect of team charters isn’t so much the thing that’s produced (the charter itself); the bigger value is in the conversation that’s held amongst team members. 

Helpful tip: Try to create the charter when all team members can be present to have the discussion, so that all team members see their interests, values, and perspectives reflected.

Why use a team charter?

While the initial conversation around developing the team charter is a key benefit of the process, the documented team charter then becomes an excellent communication tool over the life of the project.  For team members, it helps serve as the “true north” to anchor the team’s efforts, maintain focus, and reduce the likelihood of scope creep.  For members outside of the team, the team charter can serve as a communication tool to demonstrate the alignment of the team’s work to broader organizational goals.  For new team members, it can serve as an excellent resource for onboarding to the project.

Other benefits of team charters

In addition to its benefit as a communication tool, other quality-related outcomes of a Team Charter—as identified in the Journal of Quality and Participation’s article “Team Charters: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Implications for Quality and Performance”—include:

  • Reduced intragroup conflict
    • Having upfront conversations helps manage expectations amongst team members from the start.
  • Increased process speed
    • When all team members are clear on who is responsible for what, how to get information they need, and how decisions will be made, the work can flow more smoothly with less down time wasted in confusion.
  • Improved decision quality
    • Having clarity on how the work contributes to the organization’s goals, who the decision maker is, and what decision-making process will be used helps teams make faster, more effective decisions.
  • Shared values
    • Individuals get to share what’s important to them with their team to help generate shared team values, norms, and codes of conduct.
  • Higher team member satisfaction
    • When team members share a vision for success and know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from others, they will be more committed to the group’s purpose.

How do I create a team charter?

Guiding questions to consider when crafting a team charter with your team include:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How will this project/piece of work contribute to our broader organizational goals?
  • Do we have the right people on this team to accomplish what we are trying to do?
  • How will each team member contribute to our goals? What is each member responsible for? Who has what deliverables, and by when?
  • What processes will we use to communicate (e.g. huddles, team meetings, action-decision logs)?
  • How will we make decisions? Who is the decision-maker?
  • How will we resolve conflicts as they arise?
  • How will we resolve problems that arise?

Helpful tip: team charters should be considered living documents, and be revisited on a regular basis, especially when the team composition changes.

Team Charter Template

Improving how your team functions is a great way to help ensure your project is successful. Want to try building a team charter with your team? Download HQC’s team charter template and get your team going on a team charter today!



Categories: Blog, Quality Improvement

Tags: quality improvement

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