A team charter, which defines your team’s goals, strengths, and resources, is a road map that gives your team some structure. Here, we’ll lay out how to construct the perfect one.

What is a team charter?

A team charter is like a map – it’s a written document that lays out a project step-by-step. Some make team charters for an entire team to determine how their dynamic will function or how your workflow will look. Others just make team charters for specific projects or to reach certain milestones. Either way, a good charter will focus your team and clearly define their purpose while also giving practical tips for executing their goals – it’s a cheat sheet, a checklist, and a guidebook all in one.

A team charter should be legible to your team and your managers, bosses, or other organizational heads who would be interested in examining how your team functions. This serves multiple purposes, as you can both serve as a role model for other teams with an excellent charter while also having risk management in place, as everything is manualized. Everyone should have buy-in on every item in the charter. Additionally, charters shouldn’t be fixed; throughout your team’s journey, blockers may arise, and you’ll have to manage the change.

Parts of a charter

While every charter is different, if you’re making a team charter regarding one specific project, there are some necessary elements you should integrate into every single one to ensure that you’re working as effectively as possible.

The team

The first portion of your team charter is, of course, about your team. It’s imperative to clearly lay out the roles on your team charter to know exactly who you’re working with and what everyone is doing.

  • Your team’s purpose: Every team needs a clearly defined mission they’re working towards every day. Even if your team’s purpose is different from the purpose of the specific project you’re writing a charter for, you should always have your mission in the back of your mind to inspire you as you’re working.
  • Team members: List your team leader and all team members, including alternate members if you have any. If you’re making a general team charter and different projects have different team leaders, be sure to specify.
  • Connectors: Here, put in other individuals you might need on your team’s journey. Include other teams in other departments, critical resources such as subject matter experts (SMEs), clients, and other characters in the project’s story.

The arc

Next, you’ll need to determine the arc of your project or team. This is where you tell the story – how long will your project take? What do you want to get out of it? And how will you get there?

  • Duration: This is simply the amount of time the project will take. If you’re writing a team charter without a project in mind, you can put the duration of different types of projects here, so every task has an anticipated timeline.
  • Goal: If you know where you’re going, it’ll be easy to get there – so have a destination in mind before you set sail. Even if you don’t have a deliverable at the end, think about other firm numbers or objectives like the number of customers reached in a marketing campaign or dollars earned in a round of funding.
  • Scope: The scope determines the parameters of your project so that you don’t try to scale up before you’re ready. State numbers here, such as how many customers you aim to reach or your ideal sales revenue.
  • Commitment: Rather than just plotting out how long the project will take, you need to budget time for all team members in order to really understand the undertaking. Layout who will be working on what parts, when they’ll be doing it, and an estimated amount of bandwidth they’ll dedicate to the project each week.

The process

The last part of your charter should be the cogs in the machine of your project: what tangibles you’ll be working on and the plan you have for getting them done.

  • Chain of command: Every good project needs a solid communication plan, and this portion of your team charter will determine how that communication occurs. How often will you be giving updates about your part in the project, and who will be receiving them? Are there any potential hurdles in communication, like a colleague going on vacation or extended leave? How will you overcome them?
  • Resources: Everything you need to accomplish your project goes here, along with the cost of each item if you’re required to report that. This includes meeting spaces, travel budgets, reference documents, and other necessary items.
  • Deliverables: This portion, of course, defines what you’ll be turning in – your team’s outputs. Be sure to include key performance indicators (KPIs), processes for long-term auditing, and other measurables that ensure the success of your project.

Tips and tricks

Even if you have the basics of a team charter in place, there are some details you can keep in mind that will take your charter from excellent to perfect.

Plan for the worst

Risk management needs to be integrated into every team charter, so make sure that you’re planning for the worst, even if you’re not preparing for it. Change management is essential for any project, even if you have a team charter – so make sure that you have built-in systems to adjust for blockers and semi-regular meetings to reassess if the charter reflects your needs.

Look at past projects

In order to properly plan a team charter that creates the most effective and productive work environment possible, make sure to look at past projects and reflect on how you can make a team charter that fills the gaps.

  • Did past projects stay true to your team’s mission – and if they strayed, were your outputs significantly lower quality?
  • Are you meeting your team members’ need for engaging and thought-provoking work, or are you stretching them too thin? Is everyone playing to their strengths?
  • How did our communication look? What were we missing?
  • Were some portions of the journey smoother than others? Why did these hiccups occur?

Ultimately, the perfect team charter looks different for every team. By establishing individualized team norms and consistently making regimented plans for accomplishing projects, your team’s synergy will feel more fluid than you ever thought possible.

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