A team charter clarifies team direction and establishes a scope of operations. It could be a foundational document for a project team, sales team, consulting group, line-of-business department, or any other set of workers closely tied to a slice of an organization’s strategic operations.
The team charter has two primary audiences. First, it serves to illustrate the team focus and goals to the members. Second, it informs stakeholders outside the team (for example upper management and other teams) about the team’s purpose, activities, and possible interfaces across the organization. Publishing a team charter reduces confusion about the group’s objectives, setting the stage for individual and team performance management. It also provides information potentially reducing the risk of rework and scope creep, enabling the team to do the job right the first time while staying on schedule.
The team charter should be developed quickly during team formation and be a short read. I prefer one to three pages in length. Over three pages long and it will be skimmed or ignored. Creating a charter should involve the participation or input of as many team stakeholders as possible. Existing documents, for example strategic or marketing plans or requirements, can be a source of input for the team charter. Interviews with key stakeholders can be conducted individually or in a group setting.
I prefer to draft a charter and first circulate it to my team for their review and input. When possible, I hold a short meeting with the team to brainstorm suggested improvements to the draft. The new draft is then circulated to involved management, peers, and partners to gather their comments and further refine the charter. I try to make the entire process last a few days instead of weeks, but circumstances of scheduling, reviews, and workload can stretch the elapsed time.
Next, I’ll provide an overview of the key areas I often include in a team charter:
- Team Purpose
- Duration and Time Commitment
- Supporting Resources
- Reporting Plan
Team Purpose (Vision, Mission, Strategic Drivers, Core Values, Principles, Goals)
This section identifies the organizational value of drawing these people together as a team. The opportunities or issues the team must work or resolve are clearly specified. The section describes how team operations tie into corporate strategy and values.
Environmental factors affecting the team such as regulations, best practices, or contractual obligations are included as well. It’s best to start a project, program, or other set of functions with the desired end in mind. The team sponsor or leader establishes clear goals for the team to achieve. By defining the desired end result, the magnitude of the work becomes evident. SMART goals defining the desired outcomes of the team’s work complete the picture of the team’s purpose.
Duration and Time Commitment
Typically the amount of time the team and its members will be working together is delineated. For example, the entire team will be working together over a six month time frame. Alternatively, certain roles will be brought onto the team or dismissed from the team according to a specified schedule. Another possibility would be for the team to be a standing organizational unit kept together indefinitely such as a Human Resources team.
If the team’s duration depends on designs not yet finalized, the duration of implementing those requirements may extend beyond the team’s life span. In this case, the charter would describe transition options for such extensions. If appropriate, the estimated amount of time that will be dedicated weekly or monthly by team members can also be informative.
Scope (in scope / out of scope)
The scope defines the beginning and end of the spectrum of work effort to be applied by or for the team. It lists departments, processes, services, measures of effort expended, costs, or other factors as included in or excluded from the team’s activities. The scope, while setting parameters, helps the team leader and members identify tasks and changes that are outside of the team scope and minimize the effects of scope creep.
Team members are listed individually with their team roles. Depending on the type of team and work to be done, the job titles will vary. However, the team leadership must be clearly identified. This list provides recognition of team members and enhances individual commitment to the team goals. Alternate members, if any, are also listed. The team executive sponsor is listed after the team members.
Supporting Resources (People, Equipment, Supplies, Links)
The supporting resources can include other people not assigned as team members but still required to accomplish the team’s work. An obvious example is a Recruiter who finds and acquires contract workers to assist the team. Other people resources that are known Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in specific fields supporting team activities are also included. Non-personnel resources listed can be dependent on the team activities (design documents, meeting rooms, travel budgets, spending authority, software, office space, etc.). Itemize departments or organizational initiatives that may have overlap with the team’s purpose or activities as linked resources to round out the list of required resources.
A Communications Plan defines how the team will report progress to its stakeholders. It is important to report how the team activities are proceeding and what barriers the team is facing, especially to executive management and possibly to customer leadership. The communications plan establishes the frequency of reporting, the distribution channels to be used, and the key content to be included.
Deliverables are the outputs of the team’s efforts. Deliverables include the documents, desired behaviors, products, services, and auditing process that verifies the deliverables are in place. I also include Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure the success or quality of the deliverables. By considering the KPIs, unmeasurable deliverables can be eliminated while forming the team instead of wasting effort on creating them. These KPIs tie directly back to the SMART goals mentioned above under the Team Purpose.
I mentioned at the beginning that a Team Charter should be brief for maximum effectiveness. One way to achieve that brevity is to include other documents, or sections of documents, that contain charter information by reference. For example, if the team is fulfilling contractual obligations under a Managed Services Agreement and a Statement of Work, include those contracts by reference.
Finally, for some types of teams, such as the Human Resources team mentioned earlier, the time duration described in the charter can be quite long. In this case, the team and its leadership needs to periodically re-examine the charter in the light of ongoing operations and make required or desired changes and improvements.