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How to create a team charter in 10 steps [with examples]

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 22, 2024

Creating a team charter might seem like a pointless exercise, especially if your team’s already hit its groove. But consider this: what if everyone’s understanding of the goals is just slightly off? Or there’s a little confusion around communication channels, values, and norms? 

Maybe it hasn’t caused problems yet, but all it takes is an unplanned sick day or a missed email for storm clouds to gather. 

This is where the team charter steps in. 

Far from being a top-down mandate, it’s a collective agreement that shapes the way your team operates, including its vision and commitment to shared objectives. It’s for teams old and new, big and small. And best of all, it’s easy to make. Let’s take a closer look at this underrated little document. 

What is a team charter?

A team charter is a living document that sets out how your team will work together on a project, or within the organization. 

In it, you’ll find the team’s purpose, its objectives, and how it plans to operate. It’s not just about the end goal: it’s a set of guidelines on how the team will collaborate to make those achievements a reality. 

By setting clear expectations, a team charter helps stop misunderstandings in their tracks. It also acts as a reference point for team members, helping everyone stay aligned and focused on their goals, whatever the project. 

Why do you need a team charter?

Creating a team charter is about helping your team work together seamlessly. 

  • Clarity: It helps every team member get to grips with the team’s mission and its aims. This can be massively motivating while guiding the team and keeping everyone on track. 
  • Defined roles and responsibilities: A charter outlines who’s responsible for what. This prevents overlap, ensures accountability, and helps team members know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Improved communication: By establishing guidelines on how the team will communicate, the charter helps keep information flowing smoothly among all members.
  • Conflict resolution: It can include strategies for resolving conflict, which is essential for creating a healthy team dynamic. 
  • Alignment with organizational goals: A team charter helps ensure the team’s efforts contribute towards the larger objectives of the organization. It aligns the team’s work with the company’s vision and strategy.

Charter cheat sheet: Here’s what it should include 

Some charters are granular, some use broader strokes. Here are the essential elements to include as a minimum. This is just a checklist — we’ll expand on some of these in the step-by-step guide. 

1. Team purpose and objectives: This is the heart of your charter. It’ll set out why the team exists and what it hopes to achieve. These should align with broader organizational goals while being specific to your team’s mission.

2. Team members and roles: List everyone on the team plus their roles, including who is responsible for what.

3. Values and norms: What are the core values guiding your team’s behavior? How do you expect team members to interact with each other?

4. Goals and metrics: Beyond the broad objectives, what specific, measurable goals is the team aiming for? How will you track progress? These metrics will keep the team focused. 

5. Decision-making process: Who has the final say, or will it be a bottom-up democratic process? Establishing this upfront can prevent trouble later on.

6. Communication plan: Outline how and when the team will communicate. This includes regular meetings, updates, and the preferred tools and channels for communication

7. Conflict resolution strategies: Disagreements are natural, but how will your team handle them? Having a conflict management strategy in place helps navigate conflicts constructively, without derailing the team’s progress.

8. Resources and support: Identify the resources available to the team, including budgets, tools, and any external support. 

When to use a team charter

Creating a team charter might seem like an extra step, especially if you and your team have been working together for some time. But here’s the kicker: What if your understanding of the team’s goals differs even slightly from your colleagues’? 

Misalignments, however small, can ripple through your team’s dynamics and impact your collective performance. That’s where the magic of a team charter comes in — it’s a canvas where everyone’s vision for the team takes shape. 

The beauty of a team charter lies in its collaborative nature. Imagine a document that’s not handed down by management but is instead drawn from the aspirations and commitments of every single team member. This goes beyond simple buy-in; it’s about crafting a document that truly reflects the collective vision of the team.

So when should you use it? The short answer is: whenever. But especially when you’re setting up a new team. It’s also worth revisiting it when team members leave or join, and when a new project demands cross-functional teams to work together on a new project.

Whether you’re a solo person in a larger ensemble or part of a tight-knit team, the charter scales to fit. It could unite designers, bring together the broader sales department, or even encapsulate the vision of the entire organization. The scope is yours to define, tailored to your unique needs and ambitions.

How to write a team charter in 10 simple steps

Now you know the what and why, let’s take a look at the how. 

As a general rule of thumb, each stage should be an interactive, collaborative exercise. Brainstorm, decide what to take forward as a team, and fine-tune it before putting it in the doc.  

1. Kick-off with an inclusive meeting

Gathering your team is the first crucial step. This shouldn’t just be any meeting: consider it the kickoff for your team’s future success. It’s an opportunity to make sure everyone knows the purpose of the charter and feels invested in its creation. 

Use this time to brainstorm and get everyone’s input. Encourage questions, and make sure everyone gets a say. This foundational meeting sets the tone to follow. 

During this stage, you’ll also want to list everyone in the team, including stakeholders. It sounds obvious, but in all the excitement, it’s easy to leave this crucial part off (and consequently miss people out).

2. Craft a compelling team purpose

The heart of your team charter is its purpose, aka its vision. Crafting this statement is way more than a mere formality. It’s about capturing the heart and soul of why your team exists. 

Make this discussion thoughtful and inspiring, and aimed at identifying a purpose that resonates. Consider your organization’s goals and how your team contributes to these objectives. 

Having a solid sense of purpose will guide your actions and decisions, serving as a constant reminder of what you’re aiming to achieve together. 

3. Define clear objectives and goals

Objectives turn your purpose into actionable targets. This step requires specificity and a focus on measurability. 

Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Gather the team together to set these goals, and make sure they’re both ambitious and realistic. Discussing and agreeing as a team helps with alignment, while also helping people feel engaged. 

Remember, these goals are not set in stone; they can be adjusted as your team progresses, but they serve as your initial roadmap.

4. Assign roles and responsibilities

Overlaps and gaps mean wasted resources. Clarity in roles and responsibilities is crucial for avoiding this. This step goes beyond simply naming job titles — it’s about understanding each person’s strengths and how they can best contribute to the team’s vision. 

Discuss expectations for each role and make sure everyone is both comfortable and clear about their responsibilities. This clarity helps with engagement, it helps streamline efforts, and it makes it easier to track progress. 

5. Establish values 

Values define how team members interact with each other and approach their work. Establishing these guidelines is essential for creating a positive, productive team culture. 

Respect, trust, integrity, accountability, innovation, and collaboration will probably feature — but chat to your team about what matters to them. 

Then, translate these values into specific behaviors, like how you’ll handle disagreements, decision-making processes, and communication preferences. This step is about setting expectations, boundaries, and a foundation for respect. 

6. Agree on communication protocols and other norms

Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful team. In this step, you’ll need to define how the team will communicate, including the frequency and modes of communication (email, meetings, instant messaging, etc.). 

Think about establishing rules around responsiveness and how you’ll all share and store information, including workflows and timelines. This clarity prevents information silos and again sets a baseline for expectations. 

Regular check-ins or stand-ups can also be part of this plan, providing opportunities for updates and adjustments as needed.

7. Set up decision-making processes

A clear decision-making process is vital for a team’s efficiency. Discuss and agree on how you’ll make decisions, who will be involved, and the criteria you’ll use. 

This might include consensus-based decisions, majority votes, or a designated decision-maker for certain situations. Having this process in place helps prevent conflict and delays. 

8. Develop conflict resolution strategies

Speaking of conflicts — they are inevitable, but they don’t have to totally derail your team. 

Establishing a conflict resolution strategy is about preparing for these moments constructively. Discuss how you’ll address conflicts, including steps for escalation and resolution. Consider techniques like mediation or structured problem-solving sessions, and don’t forget to include remote workers in your conflict plan.

Having a plan in place is both reassuring, and helps you get things back on track when there’s a hiccup.

9. Identify resources and support

Understanding what resources are available and what support the team needs is essential for planning. This includes budgets, tools, information, and any external support (like mentorship or expertise from other departments). 

Documenting these resources in your charter means you know whether you’re equipped to achieve your goals and where to turn for help when needed.

10. Finalize and share the charter

Once you’ve worked through these steps, it’s time to compile everything into your final team charter. 

This document should be clear, concise, and reflective of the discussions and agreements made by the team. Review it together to ensure accuracy and buy-in from all team members. Then, share the finalized charter with relevant stakeholders, making it an accessible reference for guiding.

Team charter examples to inspire you 

Creative juices running a little low? Here are some examples to get the ball rolling.

[Insert some nicely designed examples from Cacoo here if possible. If not, use my examples below]

  1. A project charter template by Kridha Graphics on Dribble
  1. A simple charter template by Jennifer Ellen-Cross
  1. Enterprise Ireland’s clean and creative team charter 

Final thoughts 

Life within any team or organization is dynamic — people come and go, objectives evolve, and challenges emerge. That’s why a team charter isn’t a set-in-stone document. It’s designed to grow and adapt with your team. Regularly revisiting and refreshing the charter keeps it relevant, guiding the team through changes and keeping everyone honed on the evolving vision. 

Since it’s a living document, storing it on a cloud-based platform like Backlog is a smart move. Not only will it be accessible to everyone, whenever and wherever, but you’ll also be able to get notifications in real-time. No more email updates, no more weird MS Word formatting, no more missed versions. 

Collaboration is the name of the game here, so it makes sense to use tools that are as flexible and cohesive as your team. Try it for free today! 



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