Team Management Systems

Team Chartering

By Victor Caune
Copyright © Victor Caune. All rights reserved.

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To compete successfully in today's business environment, companies have to be lean, flexible and responsive to their customers. To achieve this, organizations are changing their traditional ways of working (i.e. hierarchical and functionally driven structures) in favor of team-based approaches which emphasize the empowerment of employees and sharing of leadership responsibilities.

In the past, many organizations rushed to form teams and did not invest sufficient time, training and resources to lay the groundwork for effective team development. What happens before a team gets started and in the first few meetings often determines whether the team survives!

A critical component for team success lies in the establishment and acceptance of a Team Charter which provides team members, senior management and other stakeholders with:

  • The information necessary to understand clearly the work the team is undertaking
  • Clarity about team structure, membership and roles
  • The basis for determining the team's goals and performance measures
  • The limits and boundaries within which the team is to operate
  • Processes to manage the team's organizational relationships and interfaces

The chartering process has four main elements, sponsoring, developing the game plan, agreeing - signing off and auditing.

The Team Charter describes the overall mandate for the team and the performance results the team is expected to accomplish. When forming a team the sponsor(s) and possibly other key stakeholders should establish a broad Charter. At the same time, it is important that the team has 'space' to customize the Charter and make it their own.

"The sponsor role is critical in empowering the team" according to Andrew Wardman the Operations Manager at Carter Holt Harvey's manufacturing plant in Melbourne - Australia. "Our experience indicates that it takes about 4 solid sessions over a six month period for a Team Charter to crystallize". The sponsor provides the ongoing focus, resources and motivation for the team and its members. Sponsoring helps the team to get started and to move through the stages of team development to become high-performing. "Ensuring that regular audits are carried out to see if the team is actively implementing its charter is a key role for sponsors" says Andrew Wardman.

Research indicates that the number one source of conflict on cross-functional teams centers on goal or priority definition. In today's work environment, individuals find themselves serving on a variety of project teams while continuing to report to their functional managers. When organizational and team priorities are unclear, are not communicated effectively, or are ignored or frequently changed by management, people become confused and less productive team members. Therefore, agreeing to the team's Charter is a pivotal role for senior executives in the team's setup phase.

Following is a start-up checklist that organizations can use to develop a Team Charter:

  • Is there an agreed team purpose with written objectives?
  • Have the team's key stakeholders been identified? - that is people both within and outside the organization who can contribute to and/or are affected by the team. What level of support and cooperation is needed from the various stakeholders? - keep informed, get involved and help make decisions, gain approval before moving forward.
  • Have the team's boundaries been determined and agreed to? - For example what is the team's scope of authority? - recommendation only, develop solution, implement pilot, execute program, monitor and evaluate
  • Has the team structure, membership, roles and team leadership been defined?
  • What training will team members need? Commonly occurring needs are in the areas of group dynamics, personal communication, meeting skills, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Does the team have a set of agreed ground rules by which it operates? - For example, how will decisions be made?
  • Has the team agreed upon the logistics for when, where and for how long it will meet?
  • Will the team be developing a work action plan by which major, critical phases of its work are planned, milestoned and evaluated? How will records be maintained?
  • How will the team's success be measured?
  • What reward and recognition processes are available for the team and its members?
  • Are there audit plans in place to check and evaluate team progress?

Once a team's basic setup and Charter has been established, an official Company Team Launch should be organized to ensure that everyone involved with the team is operating from the same vantage point. Documentation should be made available for all team members, stakeholders and sponsors for input and confirmation. It can also serve to raise new issues or clarify any discrepancies that team members or stakeholders may have. The Launch is also an excellent opportunity for senior executives to demonstrate their commitment for the team and its Charter.

The use of a Team Charter, together with a team launch does not necessarily guarantee success but certainly provides the kick-start that teams need and is an effective means to reduce misunderstandings and gain organizational support.

Copyright © Victor Caune. All rights reserved.

Victor Caune consults in the areas of change management, team and leadership development. He assists organizations including CSR Gyprock, Southcorp Packaging, Carter Holt Harvey Tissue and others with the implementation of teams and the use of Team Chartering as outlined above. Further information on his work can be found at Victor Caune & Associates Pty Ltd.

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