What matters more than the project budget, more than timelines, more than leadership, and more than organizational strategy?

Your team.

Cohesive teams are the building blocks of strong organizations. They are more committed to and more satisfied by their work. They work harder, produce more, and experience less intra-team conflict.

Too bad, then, that some 70% of survey respondents indicated that they were part of a dysfunctional team.

They report that…

  • Work is not getting completed as expected.
  • The team react to issues rather than plan for results.
  • Some people won’t speak up, while others won’t stop talking.
  • It seems to be difficult to move forward.
  • Some team members don’t get along.
  • Meetings tend to be unproductive.
  • Some individuals seem overwhelmed – their ”day job” doesn’t leave room for project work.
  • Some people promise but don’t deliver.
  • Some people get it done quickly but need to have their work checked or redone.

Yikes. Small wonder that so many projects go terribly astray.

Fortunately, you can radically improve team culture and performance without needing to rebuild and rehire a new team from the ground up. 

If you recognize any of the above symptoms in your own team, then you may need a team charter.

Chart Your Path to Team Cohesion

A team charter is a document that defines the team’s mission, objectives, scope of operations, and guiding principles. 

This document might be even more important than a project charter (which is pretty darn important!), but teams rarely take the time to complete one.

But I’ve seen first-hand what a difference a team charter can make — even if you have to create the charter mid-project.

That’s what happened during a big, multiphase client project I was involved in. The initial phase of the project had so much interpersonal conflict that the friction was palpable on calls and in meetings. 

We got the job done, but everyone was burnt out at the end.

Heading into the second phase, we wanted to handle things differently. We committed to creating an environment and culture of respect and trust, so that everyone felt motivated and eager to be part of the project. 

And we did it by creating our own team charter — a living document of the values that were important to us and guiding principles for our work, responsibilities, and interactions.

Once we had this foundation, it was easier to address challenges as they arose. Because we had a consensus about what we valued as a team, we were able to handle issues with more respect and sensitivity. And because we were able to foster better working relationships, the team was less stressed, more motivated, and more energetic. 

How to Create a Team Charter

You can develop a team charter in just a few hours. But you can’t do it alone. Only with participation and buy-in from the full team can your charter be effective.

Here’s how to get started with your first team charter:

1. Create a safe environment. 

Your team’s charter is a group endeavor, and everyone should feel comfortable contributing. Set the context for this exercise, and explain how it will benefit the whole team.

2. Explore team values.

Give each person a sticky pad and ask them to write down what they need and value in a team. Place sticky notes on a wall and organize them by theme. Review the values and discuss as a group.

3. Define quality.

Consider what quality means for your team. Ask participants to jot answers on sticky notes and then organize responses thematically on a wall or flipchart. Review them together and discuss.

4. Identify constraints.

Brainstorm a list of constraints that the team must deal with. Explore related risks, as well as any competing priorities and assumptions. Discuss what will make the team’s work a success, and note those success factors on a flipchart.

5. Plan for conflict.

Conflict is inevitable, so get clear now on how you’ll handle it. Discuss the kinds of conflicts that might arise, and how the team will handle these situations. Take notes on a flip chart.

6. Articulate guiding principles.

By now, you should have lots of insight into what team members value, the kinds of issues that might arise, and how the team would prefer to handle these situations.

As a group, create a set of guiding principles that will translate your team’s values into action.

For example, if communication is a team value, you might have several guiding principles designed to improve communication among team members. These guidelines could include things like “Listen carefully,” “Be clear about expectations,” and “Be aware of your tone and language.”

This list of guiding principles helps the team understand what it means to value “communication” in the context of this team — and it gives them concrete ways to express that value in their interactions with others.

7. Celebrate!

Have fun, enjoy one another’s company, and celebrate a job well done by giving the group time to create a team motto and choose a mascot. 

The Team Charter Is a Living Document

Like a project charter, the team charter is a living document. The team should be referring to it frequently and updating as necessary.

So be sure to publish and distribute the charter widely, and consider ways that you might be able to keep the guiding principles front and center for everyone. Any time that conflict or issues arise, refer back to the guiding principles and use them to inform your dialogue around the issue. And don’t be shy about modeling this for others!  The more your team sees you using the team charter, the more likely they will be to refer to and rely on it themselves.

And be sure to schedule time for the team to review and update the charter. This review doesn’t have to be time-consuming or cumbersome — but it’s important to open space regularly for the team to discuss how the guiding principles are supporting (or failing to support) their everyday work. 

Once your team integrates the guiding principles into their daily work life, you’ll be surprised at how quickly team culture can improve. Because people are starting from shared principles in every interaction, conflicts and misunderstandings are less fraught and more easily resolved. And that means your team work will more cohesively, more effectively, and far more happily.

3 Comments. Leave new

  • Anthony Colletti
    May 5, 2021 12:51 pm

    Interesting concept. Fortunately, my teams are in the minority 30% and collaborate well together. We do struggle to complete project work and value work as most of the team’s capacity is focused on fire fighting. While a team charter may not solve the capacity issue, it can certainly shed light on the team’s capacity and constraints which can be valuable in setting expectations to leadership and stakeholders alike.

    • Lucky you Anthony! The constraints and guiding principles exercise is a good one – let me know if you try it.

  • […] as we created a project charter and plan to guide our actions, we also created a team charter to keep the group on […]


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