Team Charters: Are they still worthwhile?

What’s your experience of Team Charters? Is it a document that’s rarely or never referred to? Or is it a useful guide to improve team spirit and work efficiency?

In today’s work environment, teams are often more fluid than before, maybe forming for a shorter time and with team members coming and going. Creating a Team Charter might therefore seem old-fashioned, overly bureaucratic and a waste of time. However, in my view, Team Charters are worthwhile because they create clarity so that people know what’s expected – that’s still important today.

When I meet teams who skip this step because of their more temporary nature (or because the Team Leader thinks it’s not necessary), team members tell me they are confused. They don’t want to ‘tread on people’s toes’, they don’t know what their accountability is, and they are frustrated because people work in silos and/or decisions aren’t made.

This article explores best practice around Team Charters, whether you’re a more recognisable, stable team or one that is more fluid – both have moving cogs that need to work together smoothly to create value.

What should a Team Charter contain?

The elements of a good Team Charter include:

  • Team purpose
  • Team goals, measures of success and accountabilities
  • How the team fits in with other teams
  • Meetings governance
  • Decision-making governance
  • Any specific team roles, such as organiser, facilitator and note-taker
  • Team behaviours
  • Maybe something about each team member e.g. strengths, special skills, wishes for the team, personal development goals etc.

You’ll find more detail about some of these elements below.

How your team fits with other teams

A good way to work this out is to list interdependencies:

  • Which other teams does yours need to collaborate with?
  • What do you need from them?
  • What do they need from you?
  • What working style is optimal for both teams?
  • What communication frequency/type do you want with them?

Ideally, you will co-create this with the other team/s and stakeholders.

Meetings governance

Here are some of the things to agree:

  • What’s the objective of the meeting?
  • Where will the meeting be, and what flexibility will you allow (F2F, virtual, hybrid)?
  • How often?
  • Who should attend?
  • What roles are required within the meeting?
  • How should outcomes be recorded and followed up?

Typically, a team will have a strategic review, often quarterly. This is likely to be a slightly longer meeting which excludes operational topics and takes a deliberate step back to look at the big picture, overall. It might include an element of team development. I’d encourage this type of meeting to be face-to-face, if possible.

Teams will have operational meetings more regularly – you’ll know the frequency that makes most sense for you.

Decision-making governance

Here’s where you agree on which decisions…

  • only the team leader can make
  • the team should make collectively
  • can be delegated to individual team members
  • can be delegated outside the team (this is a good discipline for encouraging empowerment across the organisation)

Within those decisions, is there one person who has overall accountability? Who is responsible for delivering the output? Are there some decisions which certain team members need to be consulted about? Is it appropriate to keep certain people informed?

For this, you can use the traditional RACI model if you want, although some may find this overly detailed.

R = Responsible (who will actually do the work)

A = Accountable (only one person – the buck stops here)

C = Consult (who needs to be consulted before decisions are made / actions are taken)

I = Inform (who needs to be told but not involved)

If it’s a face-to-face meeting, you can capture this simply on a flipchart (and take a photo on your phone, to save typing up). If it’s a virtual meeting, you can use shared electronic means of capturing the information, such as Google’s Jamboard (link opens in new tab).  If it’s a hybrid meeting, it’s good practice to work as if everyone were virtual, so capture output electronically as you go.

Team roles

These can be rotated to spread the workload and allow people the chance to do different roles from time to time.

  • Who will pull the agenda together? (This should not mean that other team members don’t contribute)
  • Who will be ‘Rabbit hole monitor’ (The name is inspired by the classic book, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, where Alice fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.) This person stops people going off track and helps bring focus back to the topic if it drifts away. They should ensure the discussion stays in service of the objective of each agenda item. If a topic crops up that is important, but would take everyone down the rabbit hole, use a Car Park method to note the topic to come back to at another time
  • Who will facilitate the meeting? The facilitator keeps an eye on the atmosphere in the discussion. If certain members are quiet or frustrated but not voicing what they think, the facilitator should invite them to contribute. This person needs high EI (emotional intelligence) so they can call things out and get everyone involved. They might also keep an eye on timings so the meeting doesn’t fall behind the agenda
  • Who will take notes? And what form will the notes take? For example, should this person make a full transcript of the meeting, or just record the agreed action points with deadlines and accountabilities?

Team behaviours

A Team Charter will usually comprise a list of 5–7 team behaviours that will enable team members to be their best, enjoy being in the team, and be in service of the team purpose.

This part should be worded positively in terms of what you will do, be and have rather than things to avoid or ‘not’ do.

How to create your Team Charter

Here’s what I’ve found works well when I help clients set up their Team Charters:

First, ask each team member to succinctly describe the best team they’ve ever worked in, and what made it the ‘best’ team for them. The advantage of this step is that you get to know what makes each person ‘tick’, and what’s important to them about team-working. By the time you’ve heard from everyone, you’ll have some common themes about what makes a team ‘good’ and effective.

You then use this information as you go on to create your Team Charter with all the bullet points around meetings governance, decision-making governance, team behaviours and specific team roles.

Please let me know if you’d like my help with this.

How to track, measure, review and evolve your Team Charter

This part is often neglected but it’s ‘where the rubber hits the road’.

You might invest 2–4 hours to pull the Team Charter together, but it’s only worthwhile if people keep it front of mind, otherwise, it will just gather dust on a shelf, people will get cynical about it and won’t bother to follow it.

Like any new habit, you need to practice every day for a month if you want it to stick.

Here are my top tips:

  • Make sure your Team Charter is visible and refer to it regularly
  • Draw attention to it at the beginning of each operational meeting
  • At the end of each meeting, spend 10 minutes discussing how you did against the Charter. How effective were you at reaching the objectives of the meeting? What went well? What are the concerns, if any? What would you do differently next time?
  • At your quarterly strategic reviews, spend an hour or so on it. How are you doing against your Team Charter? How is it working in practice? Do you need to update it?
  • When new members join the team, have someone sit with them to go through the Charter and explain why it was created and how it’s lived

More tips around Team Charters

To help bond the team, you might give it a name or visual identity. For example, I heard of a team who were tasked with giving presentations at locations around the UK about a new brand. Team members all wore matching T-shirts with the team values printed on the sleeves – this helped them be recognised as they travelled about and was a constant visual reminder of the team values.

You might like to give the Team Charter a creative name. You can use a metaphor or image – whatever works for you. If you experienced a valuable offsite event, you might name the Charter after the town where it happened. If it suits your style, you can be more playful. For example, I know a team who called their Charter ‘Betty’ because they’d recently seen the film Betty Boo and liked the character.

Here are some more practical tips you may find useful:

  • Avoid making your Team Charter a lengthy document, as that will drain energy, particularly in today’s world
  • Aim to fit it on one page which displays the key points and supporting notes
  • Have each team member sign it. That way, you are less likely to get passive resistance
  • Try to make it visually interesting. See for templates which will give you an idea how to fit everything visually onto a single page (link opens in a new tab)

Related reading

If you found this information useful, you might enjoy reading my related articles:

Next month

Anxiety is not good for us – or may be it is! Next month, I’ll explore how anxiety might be your friend.