The Team Charter – build a better team together

By Nick Butler

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An enamel mug reading 'The adventure begins' sits in a stream. The Team Charter sets ground rules for the upcoming project.

Government of the team, by the team, for the team—that’s the Agile Team Charter.

At Boost we usually wrap up our Project Kick-off workshops by discussing how the team will work together and documenting this in the Team Charter. Beyond the discovery workshop, it’s also a very useful exercise for new teams or when new people join an existing team.

Get the Agile Project Kick-off Kit as a handy 39-page PDF. Based on this blog post series, it’s been revised and expanded, giving you the tools you need to get your project off to a successful start.

Buy the Kit

As with all the best professions (doctors, lawyers, the mafia), the aim is to be self-regulating. You’re more likely to get a great team when the team itself sets the ground rules. It bonds the team and builds a shared understanding and commitment.

“We have the Team Charter at the end of the agenda because it’s a good way to frame things,” says Agile Lead Gavin Coughlan. “You’re about to embark on this journey together so it’s a nice to bring people together and get a shared understanding of how you want to work. You start building the team through having that conversation.”

What to include in your Team Charter

Team Charters range from the lightweight to the kind of encyclopedic detail suggested by the Scrum Alliance.

“I think there’s a good middle ground,” says Gavin.

As a rule of thumb, if it’s too big to remember, it’s probably too big.

At Boost we usually cover:

  • values (e.g. openness and courageousness)
  • behaviours (e.g. there’s no such thing as a silly question—if in doubt, ask)
  • meeting details (e.g. stand-up at 9.15 am, no phones)
  • technical practices (e.g. quality control processes like Test Driven Development and continuous integration—this can tie in with the Definition of Done)
  • communication tools (e.g. Slack for messaging, Zoom for video conferencing).

We sometimes cover:

  • roles and responsibilities (e.g. who to talk to if the Product Owner isn’t available).

We don’t cover:

  • the Product Vision (we do this earlier in the Kick-off and record it separately)
    the Definition of Done (also done separately)
  • technology (decided elsewhere, though as a Rails shop this doesn’t vary much).

Some Charters start as a list of rules presented to the team which Gavin advises against.

“It’s a hard ‘no’ to that,” says Gavin. “That would be favouring process over individuals and interactions. You can’t expect buy-in from the team if they have limited input into their own charter.”

How to draft a Team Charter

You don’t need the stakeholders who have been part of the rest of the Kick-off, just the team—including the Product Owner—and the facilitator.

“Usually when you open a Team Charter meeting and you say, ‘OK, what’s our first point?’, it’s tumbleweeds,” says Gavin.

To break the silence, the facilitator should avoid making suggestions and instead should ask open questions. These might be things like:

  • How do we know if someone is open to being asked for help?
  • What tells us that someone needs help?
  • How do we want to deal with electronic devices in meetings?

Capture each point, perhaps on a flipchart or whiteboard. Make sure each point clearly describes what was intended and is understood by everyone. When the points stop coming, review them all to make sure they’re relevant and there are no big gaps.

Make the Team Charter visible

At Boost we have both a physical and a digital copy, the paper version posted beside the project board and a photo or transcript in our wiki.

The physical copy keeps the Charter in front of the team every day, while the digital copy is available for people working off-site and as a back-up.

“If we just put it up electronically no one would probably ever look at it again,” says Gavin.

It’s worth taking the time to make it tidy. “If it doesn’t look good it’s not showing a lot of respect for the Charter.”

Overall Boost Team Charter.
As well as a Team Charter for each project, at Boost we have an overall Team Charter covering how we work as a company.

Maintaining the Team Charter

Just as the Team Charter is not laid down from on high, it’s also not carved in stone.

“You want to maintain it, but not so frequently that people get sick of it,” says Gavin.

A Retrospective can be a good chance to review the Charter and make sure it’s still fit for purpose.

Gavin gives the example of a team that had decided they were not going to interrupt each other when they had their headphones on because that meant they were in the zone.

“But then we found that people had headphones on all day long,” he says.

If you do make changes, update both the paper and electronic versions.

Keeping to the Charter

“The Team Charter is not something you use to police a team,” says Gavin, “it’s something the team can use to hold each other accountable. So if someone arrives late for a meeting they can say, ‘Hey, we agreed that if you were late you’d message the team so we know you’re OK.’”

Sometimes Agile coaches notice the Charter isn’t being followed and remind the team that it’s there, and that it’s theirs.

“A team I worked with before was having problems, they weren’t communicating well,” says Gavin. “We got them together, ran a team-building exercise and took a look at the Team Charter. We had a really open and frank conversation about their approaches to things and how their approaches differed. Like most tools in Agile, it’s all about the conversation—the conversation about the points in the Charter helped create a new understanding. When we put the Charter back up on the wall the team referred to it all the time. It was probably the best, the most impactful Team Charter I’ve ever seen.”

The Kick-off Kit

This post is part of a series covering the tools and templates you can use for a Project Kick-off.

  1. Introduction to the Agile Project Kick-off
  2. Project kick-off agenda: Running the workshop
  3. Product Vision presentations that inspire
  4. Press Release template and tips
  5. Elevator Pitch template and tips
  6. Pragmatic personas template and tips
  7. User Story Mapping
  8. Prioritise user stories and produce more value sooner
  9. Success Sliders
  10. User stories: a beginner’s guide
  11. The Team Charter: Build a better team together
  12. Kick-off kit in brief: The discovery workshop made simple

Get the Agile Project Kick-off Kit as a handy 39-page PDF. Based on this blog post series, it’s been revised and expanded, giving you the tools you need to get your project off to a successful start.

Buy the Kit

Further reading

Watch The Board episode on Project Kick-offs

Read about the Team Charter for our Scrummaker project Kick-off

Agile training

In New Zealand and keen to train with the team who put together the Kick-off kit? Learn more about our Agile training:

Agile Professional Foundation certification, Wellington, NZ – two-day ICAgile course

Introduction to Agile methodology, Wellington, NZ – free two-hour workshop

Agile Accelerator team assessment – Agile review and action plan

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