The Future of Teamwork: An Ironically Old Tool

If I were to offer one piece of advice that fit any situation, it would be to live proactively. That is, set your mind to putting in the effort BEFORE the problem gets worse (or even insurmountable).

Want to find a partner? Be proactive.

Looking to have good health? Proactivity.

Be a part of a healthier team or organization? You guessed it.

I don’t know anyone who didn’t put effort into finding a partner in some way–even if just opening themselves up psychologically. Similarly, healthy people don’t wait until they are sick to start eating right or to see the doctor.

Sturdy organizations build a foundation before they build walls.

The proactive tool I am most fond of, and yet hear mentioned least often, is called a team charter: Team chartering is a process used to develop a document that outlines the direction and boundaries of a team to encourage understanding and buy- in.

Every complaint I have ever heard from a client, colleague or friend can be traced back to a lack of solid foundation I know could be remedied by the use of a team charter.

A team charter is like a roadmap you create at the beginning of the journey to make sure your team is clear about where they’re heading, and to give direction when times get tough. / MURAL

Why Team Charter?

Team Charters…

  • clarify team mission and vision–often separate from that of the work
  • designate clear roles and responsibilities
  • remove the likelihood to default or “get stuck”–meaning folks are not always pigeonholed into the same work as always, making for happier workers and a workforce with a diversified skillset
  • written documentation to return to
  • appeals to different learning styles
  • learn from skillsets of others in real time
  • practice teaming ahead of time, creating a trial run to determine how you will work through real (and inevitable) kinks

Chartering is extremely helpful because you learn the make-up of your team. It sounds unremarkable, but I promise you, it makes all the difference. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

Dick Beckhard developed the GRPI model to help diagnose the causes of team dysfunction: Goals, Roles, Procedures and Interpersonal Relationships.

Building a solid foundation of interpersonal relationships is key for reaching company goals. A team charter is the perfect means to that end. / Accipio

When chartering, I often keep Beckhard’s GRPI model top of mind. The idea is that interpersonal relationships are the base of the triangle. As the solid foundation, you can see how important they are. This said, everything is working in service of the goal(s).

This human- and relationship-oriented approach is similar to the way a team charter works, clarifying each aspect of team development to create a high functioning team and a healthy work environment.

Here’s me happily talking team chartering: arguably on my top ten favorite tools list.

[Stuck? Intrigued? Confused? I’m here to help. Schedule a free 30-minute conversation with me by clicking here or shoot me an email:]

How to Team Charter

  • Form the outline or skeleton for your team charter; click here to view an example of a team charter outline I sometimes use with clients.
  • Begin EARLY! Preferably Day 1, or as soon as you have a team or a pair (despite how strange it may feel).
  • Remember: Something is better than nothing.
  • Produce as much safety and courageous space as possible, and discuss as a team how to create this. What’s missing and how do we generate it?
  • Include best and poorest team experiences and why.
  • Create clear personal and team goals.
  • Discuss conflict, feedback and consequences.
  • Have FUN! Ensure you include ways to celebrate and mourn together! Acknowledge milestones.
  • Be creative. This is just for you! You would be surprised how much even a team name can enhance the experience.
  • When in doubt, GRPI (Goals, Roles, Procedures and Interpersonal Relationships.)

When you charter, everyone has the opportunity to name their needs, offer strengths, areas of growth, preferred ways of receiving feedback and more.

The aspect of safety and courageous space touches on equity, trauma, belonging and more. This is an entire body of work of its own and could be another blog so feel free to reach out to us here at Graymake to talk about how this has been done in other examples. Know that having a charter and working through these sometimes difficult realities is FAR more productive than allowing an elephant to be a member of the team. What goes unaddressed, only adds additional stress. And at the most inopportune time.

I have often used values activities as well as any personality indicators as a point of reference stored in the document so that if I get stuck I can go back and consider why someone may be engaging in a way I do not understand based on the information they have self-disclosed.

In one example, a colleague set a personal goal, yet when I offered feedback she became combative. When I pointed out that this was something she asked for feedback on and a goal she herself set (using our charter as a reference point), she asked for a break. When we returned an hour later, she apologized and we were able to move forward; all the better for it.

A charter is meant to be a living document and in this case I did ask if it needed to be updated to reflect what she wanted now. She understood that this was an area that is a particularly difficult growth edge for her and that being able to ask for help, receive feedback and have it in writing was helpful. The charter remained unchanged and she later thanked me for being brave enough to offer feedback on something no one else wanted to touch. Others also privately thanked me because it was an issue affecting the productivity of the team.

The charter allowed me to take this action because I knew without it, I would not be able to maintain credibility with this particular person.

The Biggest Obstacles to Team Chartering–and How to Move Past Them

I have seen definite pushback when I propose team chartering as a tool. Even as I offer team chartering trainings, there is not yet much consistency in invitations. Yet, when folks learn about chartering – or better still, experience it, they become evangelists.

My prediction is that people are afraid that:

1) chartering slows things down too much, or…
2) if they engage in chartering, they will have to remain accountable to their word, which is scary for many.

I won’t lie. Chartering is a slow process. Especially when you begin. Much like consensus- making, it takes time to welcome individual voice in a thoughtful way. Building trust is a thoughtful business. And, I promise you, it is a worthwhile one.

Having a charter is like having an up-to-date roadmap. Even if you have visited a city before–heck, even if you grew up there–you’ll miss a lot less and have an exponentially more joy-filled experience if you avoid assumption making.

Team charters can seem like a slow process at first, but putting in the work at the beginning builds a strong foundation for success. / Next Action Associates

At Graymake, one of our core principles is “we go faster when we go slow first.” Developing a team charter can feel like a slowing-down process, as some of the best do. Done well, charters allow space for better communication and better results.

So: Where do you want to be, and what behaviors do you need to tease out of your team to get to those end goals?

Let’s chat; I want to help you get there. Schedule a free 30-minute conversation with me by clicking here or shoot me an email:


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