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Project Management

The value of a “Charter” for high-performing Project Teams

I was running a workshop for a group of researchers and analysts and we were discussing how to set the team up for success. The focus of the conversation was around how to ensure the team behaves in a positive, collaborative, way.

High-performing teams have two types of conversation. They talk about:

  • the task they are working on
  • the process (including behaviours) they are using to achieve the task

Ineffective teams rarely talk about the second of these and therefore never address some of the underlying reasons why they struggle to achieve their task objectives. They may still succeed in their task, but it might well be a rocky journey with some uncomfortable relationships and undesirable behaviours.

In order to have regular conversations about their “process”, one of the useful things a team can do is create its own “Charter” early in its set-up phase. The Charter should be self-generated, not imposed by the Project Manager, or worse, by some external facilitator or HR “expert”. Good old yellow sticky notes and a whiteboard are a great way to engage the team members in developing their own Charter. If the team develops it, they are much more likely to own it and live by it.

Many team members will have experiences of working in other teams, so they can be encouraged to contribute ideas on:

  • what’s worked well, that we could do?
  • what’s not worked well, that we should avoid?

Other questions to help generate the Charter could include:

  • What behaviours will we use and not use?
  • How will we make decisions?
  • How will we resolve conflicts?
  • What do we want, individually and collectively, to get out of being on this team?
  • What can we each bring to this team?
  • What do we not want to do?

If the team can distill their ideas down to a shortlist of 6-10 specific things they collectively agree on, they can then use these as a basis for having regular process review conversations. They can ask “how are we doing against our Charter? They can also use the Charter when the going gets tough, by reminding themselves what they committed to doing: “Remember, we said we would…”.

Here are some examples of Charter statements:

Team Charter 1Team Charter 2

Creating a Team Charter might feel “soft and fluffy” to some Project Managers but it’s actually a really “hard” conversation to facilitate. It sets the tone clearly for how the team will work and opens up a constructive conversation for teams to work collaboratively throughout the project lifecycle.

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