Jeremy Jarrell

Starting Your Team on the Right Foot with Team Chartering

Productivity How-to

One of the best things that you can do to help your team deliver great products is to make sure your entire team is starting off on the right foot.

A great way to do this is by creating a team charter, which is a document that formally describes how a team will work together. But in order for a team charter to be effective, the entire team must be vested in its output. To accomplish this, they must be actively involved in its creation; otherwise, if the team feels like the charter has been forced upon them, they’ll be more likely to reject it.

If you’re lucky, all members of your team will be fully committed to your team.

Illustration by Moe Bonneau.

Defining how the team will work together

Team charters are often created as the team first begins to take shape and may persist across multiple projects throughout the team’s lifetime. While many of the specific details of a team charter may vary depending on the type of product the team is creating, the technology stack they are working with, or even the dynamics in play in their broader organization, generally speaking, most team charters will answer the following questions:

What is the vision for the team?

The team charter should clearly state what the team will accomplish together. For example, if your organization is making its first foray into the mobile space, then the team’s vision may be, “To successfully deliver the organization’s first mobile application to market.”

What are the team’s values?

The team charter should also define what qualities will be important to the team as they accomplish that vision. For example, does the team prize craftsmanship in the code they create, mutual respect across the entire team, or active learning and continuous improvement? Regardless of what values your team holds dear, asking them to actively consider and commit to those values greatly increases the chances that they will be upheld.

Who is on the team?

If you’re lucky, all members of your team will be fully committed to your team. However, many teams must contend with members who are shared across multiple teams or who are available to their team but not actually a part of it. A team charter should clearly specify who is on the team and in what capacity to help address directly any ambiguity about each member’s availability.

This is also a great opportunity to clarify what the roles of each member of the team will be. Simple roles such as Product Manager, Engineer, or Tester are often more than sufficient to help the team start to form a picture of how it can work together, as well as help new members quickly orient themselves to who they will be working with.

What are the ground rules for the team?

Finally, the team charter should clearly define what will be expected of each member while they are on the team. Often these expectations will be influenced by the values that the team stated earlier in the chartering process. For example, if your team values face-to-face collaboration across the team, then they may establish a ground rule that all members of the team are expected to work in the office during established core hours. On the other hand, if your team values individual responsibility, then they may establish a ground rule permitting working remotely, but clearly specifying by what communication channels each team member is expected to be available.

Regardless of what rules your team specifies, they should make it clear what is expected of each team member if they wish to remain in good standing with their peers.

Keeping the team charter relevant

While your team should periodically have the opportunity to revisit their charter to ensure that it accurately reflects the way they want to work, this should not occur too frequently. Your team’s charter should serve as a touchstone for how the team will operate and changing it too frequently will inhibit the team’s ability to absorb the way of working they’ve defined for themselves.

Ideally, revisions to the team charter will best occur alongside major milestones or other opportunities for reflection and long-term planning. For example, after your team ships a major release of their product might be a good opportunity to consider revising the team charter based on the team’s experience in the last release. Or, if your organization operates on an annual planning cycle, then this can also be an opportunity to revisit the team charter’s in preparation for the coming year.

Even if your team has already formed without the benefit of a charter, it can still be beneficial to go through the process of creating a team charter. Creating a team charter with a team that is already established can be a great opportunity to level set a high-functioning team to ensure it continues operating at optimal levels, or even to reboot a team that may struggling. In either case, creating a team charter can give your team the opportunity to identify and capture what’s working well as well as to voice their concerns about what isn’t.

Getting the most from your team’s charter

Regardless of the terms that your team specifies for their charter, to get the most out of it the entire team must commit to respecting and honoring the terms they’ve agreed to. In addition, the team must also be committed to offering feedback on the charter and incorporating that feedback into future versions when opportunities for improvement arise.

If your team is committed to creating a charter that adds value to the way they work, and then honoring that charter after creation, then a team charter can be an excellent tool for starting your team on the right foot towards delivering a successful product.


Jeremy Jarrell is an agile coach who helps teams get better at doing what they love. When he’s not mentoring Scrum Masters or Product Owners, Jeremy loves to write on all things agile. You can read more of his thoughts at www.jeremyjarrell.com, see his videos at Pluralsight, or follow him on Twitter @jeremyjarrell.

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