The Importance of the Team Charter - The Evidence
An early edition of my 'The Successful Team Manager' newsletter highlighted the importance of team charters in enabling teams to establish good working practices with a view to enhancing team resilience and performance. I worked last week with a senior leadership team in Paris who fully embraced the concept and have now started work on putting their own ‘starter’ team charter in place. I was prompted during our workshop to provide some evidence of the positive impact of team charters and whilst I didn’t have the actual physical evidence at my fingertips, I referenced work that had been completed in the United States albeit these being predominantly academic studies working with student teams. I have reached out to a couple of top academics as regards extensive studies from the corporate world so depending on what I get back, I’ll communicate the outcomes of these studies in a later edition of ‘The Successful Team Manager.’ In the meantime, I have sent on copies of a couple of papers to Paris and I thought I would just highlight the conclusions of these studies here as they do emphasise the importance of teams putting in place a formal team charter.
The studies relate to the academic world of student teams where a lot of extensive work has been done on the impact of team charters. There is also evidence of healthcare using team charters more and certain sections of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is adopting an organisation wide approach to team charters, so I am going to do a bit more research as to what that exactly they are doing and what evidence they gathered before deciding to implement the team charter programme.
In summary, the studies I looked at highlight the following:
Mathieu & Rapp (2010): By devoting dedicated time to ensure high quality team charters are created before, and then working alongside, high quality performance strategies, (business plans) this offers increased chances of higher team performance than working solely on the business plans without a team charter. The key point is that both the team charter and business plans should be of good quality and continually worked on which makes sense. The assumption here, though, is that the teams are composed of competent team members who can work collaboratively and have good quality business planning skills.
Aaron, McDowell & Herdman (2014): This paper shows that the introduction of team charters does manifest improved process outcomes, including communication, effort. mutual support, cohesion, and team member satisfaction. The authors compared three groups:
1. A group who had no instruction on how to use or implement the team charter example and were left to simply to consider the charter but implement the business plan.
2. A group who were instructed how to use the team charter effectively alongside the business plan.
3. A group who were instructed how to use and implement the team charter, alongside the business plan and also had further training and coaching follow up.
Interestingly, all three groups showed increases in the teamwork criteria albeit there was a significant increase in performance between group 1 and groups 2 & 3. There was however very little difference between groups 2 and 3 despite the increased training and ongoing support for group 3.
This supports my own theory that the simple introduction of the team charter concept and some initial support work to enable teams to create their own charter and commit to keeping it alive is sufficient for most competent teams to improve their performance. When the team keeps the charter ‘alive’ and looks to continually develop the quality of the charter then this will add to later increases in performance provided the quality of the team’s work plans and projects are also high. If the team is composed of high quality, competent individuals with effective leadership, then this will also ensure that performance is enhanced. Whilst additional team coaching support could be useful, especially in times of conflict and challenge, many teams may not actually need continual external support.
So, let’s remind ourselves of what Team Charter is.
The Team Charter is a formal agreement put in place by the team that typically will cover the following basics:
1. The Team’s agreed purpose.
2. The specific SMART Goals that the team have to achieve in order to fulfil their Purpose.
3. A list of agreed values, behaviours and attitudes that will define the team’s ways of working and which the team commits to adhere to.
4. An agreed list of manager expectations of the team members, and also of the team’s expectations of management and leadership. This may not apply to ‘horizontal’ senior leadership teams but expectations around quality and timings around meetings and reports should be discussed and agreed.
5. The agreed review processes.
Some teams will have very concise Team Charters covering the key basics above, while other teams may have more extensive charters covering all the above in detail plus detail around communication and decision-making processes alongside reward processes and stakeholder engagement strategies. It all comes down to what the team is happy with and is committed to.
What do you need to ensure the completion of a Team Charter?
1. Firstly, you need time put aside to ensure the Charter is created. This should be dedicated time and I usually advocate a full day where possible. What has worked for many teams that I have worked with is that by going through a team performance ‘framework’ like my own PARTNERS process helps enormously to not only get the team clear on the basics of team performance, but also to give them the information they need to build a Team Charter. It is time really well spent and when facilitated well, can ensure real focus, clarity and understanding as to what the team has to achieve, and how best they are going to work together to achieve it. I’ve seen basic Team Charters being created in half a day when keeping them focused and simple so this is the minimum amount of time I would suggest is considered.
2. Ideally you could engage an external (to the team) facilitator to guide the team through the process. Whilst the Team Manager may be a skilled facilitator and Coach, when discussing individual team member ‘needs’ and ‘expectations’, it is preferable that everyone in the team gets the opportunity to be open about their particular preferences as regards behaviours and attitudes, and in this respect having someone external to the team to facilitate ensures that there is full inclusivity and equal contribution from all team members.
3. As mentioned earlier having a framework to work through ensures that the key basics of team performance (and the Team Charter) are covered. My PARTNERS process covers Purpose, Aims and Goals, Roles, and Responsibilities, Training Needs, Needs and Expectations, Reward, Review and Stakeholder Engagement. The key elements of the PARTNERS process can be extracted and included within your Team Charter.
4. If you have a template to collect the key information needed to be included in the Charter then all the better. There are numerous templates on the internet but if you want a simple power-point template to use then email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send one over.
Those Team Managers who do spend time putting together a Team Charter can often fall foul to the ‘hamster wheel’ of tasks and plans and struggle to put in time for the Team Charter to be reviewed so how do you keep the Charter ‘alive’?
Firstly, in your initial session where you work on your Charter it is important to strongly emphasise that this formal agreement contains all the behavioural and attitudinal attributes that all the team members have contributed to and signed up to displaying. Whilst an official review of whether the Charter is working for the team or not (and whether the behaviours and attitudes are being displayed consistently) is essential, the Charter actually gives the team a framework for immediate feedback to both compliment team members on adhering to the Charter, but also gives team members a framework and a prompt to feedback to those team members who may not display the agreed behaviours and attitudes. In fact, many teams include in their Charter, the fact that team members should praise accordingly and also immediately feedback to any member who is seen to deviate away from the agreed list of behaviours. This calls for discipline across all the team members but it may take some time for this to occur, given perhaps previous experiences. The Team Manager should play a leading role in ensuring the Team Charter ‘contents’ are kept live and they should lead by example when giving praise and constructive feedback.
Secondly, it is always useful to have a ‘champion’ who takes responsibility for ensuring that the Charter is formally reviewed perhaps once or twice a year. Whilst it is important that the Charter is a ‘fluid’ document (and should be adapted frequently when needed) and more formal and dedicated session as a team can be useful to ensure it is kept fully up to date. It’s best that this ‘Charter Champion’ isn’t the Team Manager and the role should be rotated on perhaps a yearly basis.
Formal Team Charters may seem an extra ‘burden’ for many Team Managers but they are well worth the time both in the construction and review of them. After all, you wouldn’t have your business plan fully verbal, would you?
There are a number of very cost-effective Team Manager developmental resources now available to support you in your quest to truly be that ‘Successful Team Manager.’ You can view and access these through the following links:
TEAM-XL online Team Assessment – Allows the team to feedback on strengths and development areas and gets them discussing their development towards high performance. TEAM-XL | PARTNERS Team Dev (partnersteamdevelopment.com)
The PARTNERS ‘Action Plan’ for Team Managers – A DIY Guide to getting your team performing. https://www.partnersteamdevelopment.com/product-page/partners-team-manager-action-plan
The book, ‘Team Champion - Taking Teamwork Seriously” - https://www.partnersteamdevelopment.com/teamchampion
The Online PARTNERS Team Development Course – A healthy blend of video lectures and questions to get you thinking. https://www.partnersteamdevelopment.com/online
If you are looking to develop the resilience and performance of your teams, then contact me through Linkedin or via email at email@example.com Alternatively call me on ++ 44 (0) 776 416 8989.