I’m sure many of you are familiar with a project charter, a document defining the ‘raison d’etre’ of the project. The project charter outlines the proposed scope of work, requirements, timeline, resources, the definition of done, and project success factors. It’s a must-have document for any project and is a resource you will refer to during the project.
Have you ever considered using a similar document to improve collaboration on your project team?
Let’s take at why you should develop a project team charter and what to include.
Benefits of a Project Team Charter
In their study of high-performance teams, Dr. Ruth Wageman and Dr. Richard Hackman identified three conditions essential to team dynamics: real team, compelling direction, and the right team.
- Real team refers to a sense of comradery and stability within the team.
- A compelling direction helps team members understand how their work contributes to organizational strategy, providing focus and momentum. Goals should be challenging with clear measures of success.
- Team effectiveness depends on getting the right people on the team. Individuals must possess relevant skills and experiences, and the ability to work on a team. It’s also important to combine different perspectives to avoid groupthink (privileging group harmony over rational decision making), and preference biases (only looking for answers within the group).
A team charter helps to develop these optimal conditions, boosting productivity and collaboration. By providing clear direction on the purpose and objectives of the team, and ways of working, the charter keeps the team focused on the right activities and maintains momentum.
The charter also shapes how your team interacts with other teams and senior management, helping you to stay on track.
Take time to create a team charter when forming a new team, joining an existing team as a project manager, or when assessing the performance of your current team. Below are some elements frequently included in a team charter. Feel free to adapt as needed for your team or project.
How to Create a Project Team Charter in 7 Steps
Developing a team charter requires both time and effort. Typically, managers host workshops – lasting anywhere between a half-day and a few full days – with the full team to gather inputs and agree on key points. If you want the process to work, the entire team must participate in the development and implementation of the charter; no excuses and no exceptions.
This participation creates a sense of a ‘real team’, commitment, and accountability.
Here are a few tools to help you prepare for the workshop and charter development:
- The Atlassian Team Playbook: A range of online guides and instructions to track your team’s health and ways of working. Topics include poor communication, prioritization, and lack of ownership. If you are unsure how to tackle a discussion or need ideas for a brainstorming session, start with these guides!
- Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook. Our free ebook offers best practice tips on team model and dynamics, individual roles and responsibilities, meetings, and decision-making.
- Team Trust Canvas: Whilst focused on nurturing team trust, this useful one-page plan encourages conversation around connections, values, and commitment.
There are several ways to capture and share your team charter, for example, a word document stored on a collaborative project team site and a poster in the team area of your office.
Regardless of the format, the charter should be easy to find for both onsite and remote workers, and reviewed regularly, for example, during project post-mortem.
1. Team Background
The first section of the charter is the story of your team. This includes how and why the team was formed, the purpose of the project, and the desired outcomes.
Ask team members to explain how they ended up on the team, what they will contribute, and their expectations from both an individual and team perspective. This insight will help you connect individual goals with the project and organizational objectives, fulfilling the second team condition mentioned above (compelling direction).
Take this opportunity to identify and resolve any concerns about the project or team.
2. Mission and Objectives
Next, define the goals of the team. Include key milestones, deadlines, and steps and sub-steps, and measures of success. Some areas for discussion include:
- The problem you are trying to solve and for whom.
- The business benefit of the project.
- Definition of done.
Remember to set SMART – Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related – goals, which are easy to track in your project management site.
3. Composition and Roles
As noted above, having the right mix of skills and experience can elevate or hamper team performance. It’s important to ensure each team member is suited to their assigned role and every role contributes to the team’s mission.
Using a RACI matrix, agree on team structure and roles. Be sure to cover who is responsible for what activity or deliverable, and who has authority if you (the project manager) are unavailable.
Take time to review the overall strengths and weaknesses of the team. If you identify any skills or knowledge gaps that could hamper team performance, discuss how to rectify this with training or the addition of a new team member.
4. Ways of Working
There are numerous practices and processes to capture in this section of the document. Some suggestions include:
- Team values
- Desired team member practices such as integrity and personal responsibility for tasks
- Frequency and format of project reports
- Team communication plan
- Meeting habits, schedule, and agendas
- Decision-making approaches
- Conflict resolution
- How to agree or disagree with ideas, and voting on ideas
- Asking for and giving help
- Allocating time to non-project activities
- Types of behaviors or actions that will not be tolerated.
5. Resources and Support
In addition to supporting your team, a charter is a useful tool for securing project budget and resources. Once these items are in place, work the team to plan resource allocation as per your mission and objectives.
6. Assessment and feedback
Individual performance against the team charter can inform performance management processes within your organization. At this point, agree as a team on how this will work. How will you measure expected and exceptional performance? Does performance influence annual bonuses? How often will the team assess progress?
7. Negotiation and Agreement
The charter will only work if the entire team and senior management agree with the contents and purposed processes. Circulate a draft document for review and amend as needed. To avoid any potential disagreements or ‘I didn’t know that’ situations, ask team members to read and sign a physical copy of the final document.