Having your team all working towards a common set of goals is extremely important. However, as leaders and managers we can sometimes get far too hung up on what needs to be delivered and forget about who is actually doing the work. Forgetting about the people and focusing only on delivery goals may get you to one particular deadline but failing to build the team effectively and align them around a common set of principles will rapidly cause longer term problems. A team charter can help prevent this.
At it’s heart a team wants to perform. People want to do good work; after all, feeling like one has not done the best one can possibly do is not a good feeling and as humans we naturally want to feel good. I like to sum this up like this:
Your team are a group of awesome people who want to deliver value. Your job as a manager is to enable them to do that.
So how can you help your team to bond around common goals, and ensure that these are not purely focused towards delivery or individual achievement? One way is by working with them to produce a team charter.
What Is a Team Charter?
A team charter is a set of principles that the team live by. It should be produced by the team, owned by the team, and be visible to not only the team, but also all those who work with them. It defines who they are and how they like to work.
In short, it’s the team’s rules of the game.
When everyone understands the rules, were part of defining those rules and as a team they own those rules, then the team is stronger.
A Team Charter Workshop
I recently organised and ran a workshop with my team in order to produce a charter. For some background, we consist of four different sub teams, each with around 6 people in them. The teams are cross functional software engineering teams, wth developers and testers, plus they have the skills and experience to push software live and build and maintain our infrastructure. In short they own our products from cradle to grave.
It was important first to set the scene and explain to the team what a charter is and why having one would be a good idea. A charter should be simple and so should how you explain one. Here’s how I explained charters to the team:
- It’s the ‘rules of the game’
- Helps us have a team culture of safety and confidence
- Manages our expectations of others
- Can include practical things
- Is short and snappy so that we can remember it (7 items is perfect)
- Will go on the wall so everyone can see it
I thought it would help to give the team an example of a charter. I’d heard Stephanie Richardson-Dreyer talk at a tech meetup at MOO a few weeks beforehand and she gave me the idea for the charters, and had fortunately also written an excellent blog post on the subject based on experience from GDS. I recommend reading it – her team’s charter looked like this:
- tech support is a learning experience, you should aim to learn more about how GOV.UK operates during the week
- work together, be inclusive and don’t leave anyone out or alone
- it starts at 9:30, be there
- feel free to go to essential meetings, but tell people ahead of time and see item 2
- make small improvements to make it better for the next team (e.g. documentation, automation)
- there’s no such thing as a stupid question
- help others and be patient – not everyone knows the same things
This was a great starting point and example for my team.
Getting the Team To Think
After some warm up ice-breakers then it was time to start thinking about what should go into our charter. While it could have been productive to jump straight to getting the team to think about what defines them as a team, previously I’ve found this is not always the easiest thing for them to do, and jumping straight to the solution doesn’t always get the best results. Sometimes trying something different helps people to think and come up with ideas more easily.
So I flipped their thinking around. Instead of thinking about what would define us as a team and what a good team would look like, I got them to think about the exact reverse.
What Would the Worst Team In the World Do?
Reversal is a popular problem solving technique and one that I’ve used on numerous occasions. I find it works for me. And sometimes, thinking about worse case scenarios can be fun. So the team were encouraged to think about the characteristics of unsuccessful teams then:
- Discuss them in small groups
- Group them into categories:
- Processes and Comms
- Delivery of new features
- So we would not get too many items then the teams were encouraged to dot vote where there were more than three in a category, to get the three the team thought were the most important
We then got the teams together and each team played-back their thoughts to the whole team. It was fun. We clearly knew what bad looked like 🙂
And Then Reverse
This is then where the reversal came into play – the teams were now encouraged to take their ideas (and any they had updated as a result of what they had heard from other teams) and note down the characteristics of successful teams instead. We encouraged them to think about their own context and the overall team, and how they wanted to work together and be recognised by stakeholders and other teams.
Bringing It Together
Once the teams had reversed their ideas we brought the ideas from each group together. A group discussion enabled us to find the commonality, discuss each theme and agree on importance. The result was a number of themes, one per post-it note, on the board. There were a lot of ideas.
Now it was the team’s turn to agree on what the most important items were to them. These would be the one’s that ended up on the charter. So another dot vote was called for. Each team member dot voted on their top 7 characteristics of our team.
We have our team charter. It looks something like this. It’s framed and on the wall for everyone to see. It defines us as a team to each other and to those we work with.
And when the time is right we’ll revisit it and update it if circumstances change.
Should Your Team Have a Charter?
I think so. The exercise of producing a charter brings team’s together and helps them bond around common goals and principles, and shows that the most important thing is the team. When new people join the team it helps them to understand what defines the team and what’s important. When new teams work with us then they can easily see what makes us tick.
Why not try a produce one with your team?
Want To Learn More?
I found these two blog posts very useful when learning more about charters and preparing for the workshop with the team:
- How we improved Technical Support at GOV.UK
- Why creating a Team Charter is so important for high-performing teams