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Do You Kick Off Your Projects With a Team Charter? You Should.

I do a lot of public speaking these days and one of my presentations deals briefly with the team charter. I always take the opportunity to ask the audience how many people actually create a team charter at the front end of a project.  The answer has never been more than a sprinkling of hands in the audience. I find this staggering.

An executive at EDS said to me years ago “Managing projects could be much easier if it weren’t for the people.  It’s the people that make project management so difficult.”  This is absolutely true.  But isn’t it funny that we don’t spend the time at the front dealing with this crucial piece of the puzzle?  Most of us can say that we create great Project Charter but I think most projects are missing this vitally important tool.

Why aren’t people creating a team charter?  I think there is a number of reasons for this. Unfortunately, people don’t get that the people side of our projects is so important. I think others have no idea how to create one so they ignore it. And I think many others think it takes way too much time effort and even money so they plow on into the project without any consideration of the team.

The truth is that the team charter can be created easily, quickly and for absolutely no money at all if done properly.  If I were to be asked to manage a large five-year, $50 million initiative I would certainly invest a little money and get my team out of the office for at least a day to create the team charter.  If I were to be asked to manage a small but important project I might just take one or two hours at the front end.

So what does the Team Charter look like?  The Team Charter should deal with two very different things: the team as a group and each individual.

The team issues we want to deal with include (but are not limited to):

  • who is on the team?
  • how will we work together as a team?
  • how will we communicate?
  • do we want to set up some rules of engagement?

Note that some of this sound like outputs from our Communications Plan.  What? You don’t do that either??

Turning to individual team members:

  • what are your strengths?
  • what are your weaknesses?
  • Do you have special skills or talents that might help us?
  • what kind of personality are we dealing with?
  • Are there any constraints we should know about regarding your involvement in this project?

A friend of mine, Catherine Daw, President of SPMGroup, contributed a chapter to a book called “The Keys to Our Success – Lessons Learned from 25 of our Best Project Managers” that dealt with leadership style. Catherine suggests that we should understand our own leadership styles and learn where to apply the different styles on different occasions.  When I talk about this chapter in some of my speeches, I highlight the need for not only understanding your own leadership style but the importance of communicating this to your team.  They need to understand your leadership style as much as you need to know your own.  I mention this because the team charter isn’t just about the team. It is as much about the leadership of the team as well. And that is you.  After you ask your team members to reveal their strengths and weaknesses you had better be able to do so as well.

The list above includes “what kind of personality are we dealing with?”.  Examining our personality styles as part of a team charter can provide a very valuable view of your team members.  This is not just for you, the project manager, of course, but for everyone’s benefit.  If I know that someone is a ‘Hawk’ and not a ’Dove’ or a ‘Red’ and not a ‘Green’ it will help me with my dealings with everyone on the team.  I have always thought that this was a very expensive and time-consuming tool so I have never considered its use at the front end of a project.  Until recently.  I watched a keynote speaker take a crowd of 200 through 20 questions, self-scoring as they went along, in under 10 minutes.   She then had everyone total their scores and move to a corner of the room with the personalities most like their own.  Brilliant.  The tool was simple, quick and FREE!  Great for a conference and maybe that small project.  But for the ‘all important, make or break us’ project… spend some money and do it right.  There are very good personality assessment tools out there.

The Team Charter helps to pull together your troops, create a healthy work environment and very importantly it builds a strong foundation for the people side of your project.

Will you take the time on your next project to create a Team Charter?

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