A team charter is a document that describes why a team exists. The charter shows who’s on the team, what they’re expected to accomplish and how long they have to do it. Stated more formally, the charter defines a team’s purpose and goals. It also sets boundaries to prevent “scope creep,” a term often used by project managers to describe when a team’s goals grow disproportionately to the team’s resources and timing requirements.
A team charter is typically built from a standard template used by all work teams in the company. Sections commonly found on charter templates address mission or purpose statements; objectives and goals; the scope of activities; membership; levels of authority; and timing requirements. A revision level or date is also important. When changes occur to any aspect of the team’s charter, those changes should be clearly recorded. The charter essentially provides the team with a road map to guide them forward. Changes to the charter are like detours on major roadways – missing a poorly marked detour could prevent the team from reaching its goals.
Purpose and Objectives
The team’s purpose, sometimes referred to as its mission, is the reason the team exists. Examples of a team’s purpose can be to address a problem the company is experiencing, to implement a new system or procedure, or to complete a specific project. Objectives follow the purpose because they build from the purpose statement. A team’s objectives are measurable targets or goals that, when met, will show that the team has successfully achieved its mission.
Scope and Duration
The scope and duration set the team’s boundaries. The scope identifies which company locations, customers, procedures, products, programs or other conditions will apply to the team’s activities. Typically, more than one condition will be identified. Both in-scope and out-of-scope conditions should be recorded to prevent confusion and keep the team focused. The duration sets the team’s timing boundaries. In temporary, project-based teams, the duration will include critical deadlines. In long-term or permanent teams, the duration can be defined based on meeting schedules and assignment or task due-dates.
The team structure identifies team sponsors, stakeholders and team members, along with member roles and responsibilities and levels of authority. Sponsors are typically the executives responsible for the team’s creation. Stakeholders can be customers, business leaders and others whose work will be directly affected by team activities and goals. Roles and responsibilities clarify each team member’s purpose on the team. Levels of authority specify types of decisions members can make, and provide for escalation channels to help the team get past unanticipated obstacles and resolve disputes.
Communication and Reporting
The charter should include a communication and reporting plan. This plan describes what forms and reports the team will use to record status of activities, problems encountered, decisions made and other types of information. Reporting schedules and methodologies should be clearly stated, showing when and how sponsors and stakeholders will be informed of team progress. Channels of communication, such as email and team file-sharing websites, should also be defined, along with guidelines that explain when to use each.