Getting Your Team off to a Great Start
Working in teams can be fantastic – if team members work well together. However, if people are pulling in different directions, the experience can be awful. What's worse is that, without sufficient direction, teams can focus on the wrong objectives, can fail to use important resources, can be torn apart by avoidable infighting, and can fail, with sometimes dire consequences for the organization.
Team Charters are documents that define the purpose of the team, how it will work, and what the expected outcomes are. They are "roadmaps" that the team and its sponsors create at the beginning of the journey to make sure that all involved are clear about where they're heading, and to give direction when times get tough.
For teams to get off "on the right foot," Team Charters should be drawn up when the team is formed. This helps to make sure that everyone is focused on the right things from the start. However, drawing up a team charter can also be useful if a team is in trouble and people need to regain their view of the "big picture."
At the start of a project, all is momentum and excitement, and people are eager to start work right away. This is where it's tempting to charge in to productive work. However, "failing to plan is planning to fail," as is failing to set objectives clearly. Time taken agreeing a team charter will be repaid many times over as the project progresses.
In particular, it will speed the process of forming, storming, norming, and performing, meaning that the team becomes effective much more quickly.
The precise format of team charters varies from situation to situation and from team to team. And while the actual charter can take on many forms, much of the value of the Charter comes from thinking through and agreeing the various elements.
Adapt the following elements to your team's situation.
- Mission and Objectives.
- Composition and Roles.
- Authority and Boundaries.
- Resources and Support.
- Negotiation and Agreement.
This is the introduction to the charter. It sets out why the team was formed, the problem it's trying to solve, how this problem fits in with the broader objectives of the organization, and the consequences of the problem going unchecked.
- What problem is being addressed?
- What result or delivery is expected?
- Why is this important?
The team has been formed to increase cooperation and cohesion between a multinational company's business units in different countries.
The historic lack of cooperation between country business units has meant that they have ended up selling different parts of the company's product portfolio. This has undermined the company's ability to achieve economies of scale in manufacturing, and has lead to the R&D budget being frittered away across many different business areas. These are key reasons why the company has been losing out to competitors.
Mission and Objectives
This section is at the heart of the Charter. By defining a mission, the team knows what it has to achieve. Without a clear mission, individuals can too easily pursue their own agendas independently of, and sometimes irrespective of, the overarching goal.
The mission of this team is to develop a plan that increases cohesion between country business units so that, within three years, they are selling a common product range.
The next stage is to take the mission, and turn it into measurable goals and objectives. These are the critical targets and milestones that will keep the team on track.
When writing goals and objectives, consider using the SMART framework (SMART usually stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). The key here is to make sure each objective can be measured, so that success can be monitored.
- To interview country managers and product managers to identify why they think countries are not working together. Survey to be completed and presented to the CEO by March 31.
- To prepare first draft proposals, and present to CEO by April 15.
- To refine proposals, and present to regional management meeting on April 25.
- To present the costed plan to the CEO by May 15.
Composition and Roles
Teams are most effective when:
- They have members with the skills and experience needed to do the job.
- Team members can bring experience and approaches from a range of different backgrounds.
- They have enough people to do the job, but not so many that people get bogged down in communication (seven is an ideal number of people).
- They have representation from involved functions, departments, units, or other relevant category of stakeholder (possibly including the team's client, and senior management).
Look to your mission and objectives to determine who is needed on the team to make sure its goals can be accomplished.
Once you know who should be on the team, you need to look at what each person will do to support the team in its mission. While this may seem like overkill at the very beginning of team formation, it will help you
- Match team members to roles.
- Spot gaps in skills and abilities that are necessary for the team to reach its goals.
The best way to go about this is to list each team member and define the roles and responsibilities of each.
- Who will be the team leader?
- Who is the liaison between the team and the other stakeholders?
- Who is responsible for what duties and outcomes?
The team will be made up of senior representatives from each of the four global regions, HR, the information systems department, the organizational structuring committee, and the finance team. This range of skills and knowledge will enable the team to understand the issues relating to individual countries, as well as developing solutions to the problems outstanding.
Sally Vickers will take the role of Team Leader. In that role she is responsible for:
- Ensuring this Team Charter is abided by.
- Managing the day-to-day operations of the team and the team's deliverables.
- Managing the budget.
- Providing support and assistance to individual team members.
- Providing status reports to the CEO on a weekly basis.
Authority and Empowerment
With the roles defined, you now need to look at what team members can and can't do to achieve the mission:
- How much time should team members allocate to the team mission, and what priority do team activities have relative to other ongoing activities?
- How should team members resolve any conflicts between their day jobs and the team mission?
- What budget is available, in terms of time and money?
- Can the team recruit new team members?
- What can the team do, what can it not do, and what does it need prior approval to do?
Sally, as team leader, has the authority to direct and control the team's work, and team members are allocated full time to this project, for its duration.
Resources and Support Available
This section lists the resources available to the team to accomplish its goals. This includes budgets, time, equipment, and people. In conjunction with the performance assessments, changes to the resources required should be monitored regularly.
As well as this, it details the training and coaching support available to the team to help it to do its job.
A budget of $75,000 is available to cover travel and subsistence. This will fund travel for two team members to interview senior managers in major countries, with other interviews being conducted by teleconference.
The CEO will meet with Sally Vickers at 4:30pm every Monday, for a progress update and to provide appropriate support and coaching.
This section outlines how the team will operate on a day-to-day basis. This can be as detailed or as minimal as the situation warrants. It may be comprehensive and detailed for a long-duration team, or limited to a few bullet points in a team that is expected to have a short lifespan.
Example: Team Meetings
- The first team meeting will be on Monday, February 28, at 2:00pm.
- The team will meet every Monday afternoon from 2:00pm to 3:30pm for the duration of the project.
- Each member is expected to present a short status report for the aspect of the project he or she is working on.
- If a member is unable to attend, a notification must be sent to the team leader and someone else designated to report on the status and communicate further expectations.
- A summary of each meeting will be prepared by Jim and emailed to all members by the morning following the meeting.
Negotiation and Agreement
A good Team Charter emerges naturally through a process of negotiation. The team's client establishes the Context and Mission. Objectives, composition, roles, boundaries and resources ideally emerge through negotiation between the sponsor, the team leader, the team, and other stakeholders.
We're using the word "negotiation" here, although it may not seem to be that way! Three things are key to success here:
- Discussion within the team and with the team leader to make sure that the mission and Team Charter are credible.
- Assertive negotiation between the sponsor and the team leader to ensure that the mission is achievable, and that sufficient resources are deployed.
- Support from the sponsor to ensure that these resources actually are made available.
While these may appear to be polite discussions between bosses and subordinates, negotiation is actually taking place in a very real way. Ultimately, the team needs to believe that the mission is achievable, and commit to it.
Last, but not least, comes approval. This is where all members of the team sign off on the Charter and commit to the principles it contains and the roles and responsibilities detailed.
This is a symbolic gesture that communicates full commitment to the mission and objectives. It also helps to create accountability to one another and to the organization.
By negotiating a Team Charter at the outset of a project, you set up team projects for success. You ensure that everyone understands why the project needs to be carried out, knows what the objectives and measures of success are, and knows who is doing what, with what resources.
More than this, by negotiating the Charter assertively, all parties can shape the project so that it stands a good chance of success. Then they can commit wholeheartedly to the project's success.
Negotiating a Team Charter can also be useful as a way of sorting out a dysfunctional team. Objectives can be confirmed, goals structured and agreed, roles aligned, and resources recommitted. Finally, after fair negotiation, people can be asked to commit to the Team Charter, and can be managed appropriately.
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