When teams are in their formative stages, a great tool to get everyone on the same page is a Team Charter. Depending on how detailed you want to be, the charter can summarise a whole range of pertinent information for members, such as who your stakeholders are, what your budget covers and who your principal contacts are. The really important items for me, however, are (1) what we must achieve as a team (our goals), (2) who is responsible for particular tasks (our statement of responsibilities) and (3) how we need to work together to achieve success (our team ground rules).

“Our Goals” is simply a statement of the target(s) we are aiming for, written in a very specific manner that leaves no confusion as to what constitutes success. For example, “Installation of a fully working air conditioning system on ship Anzac2 by Nov 24th, meeting all customer specifications and budget targets”.

“Our Responsibilities” outlines the roles and responsibilities of each person in the team. For example, Mary Jackson: Quality Assurance – Responsible for quality review and sign-off of all contract documents”.

“Our Ground Rules” is in my view one of the most important elements of the process and requires some investment of time to get right (but not a lot; usually around two hours). The approach I like to take for developing the ground rules is to get team members to nominate, via a brainstorming session, all of the items they feel are necessary for the team to achieve success. Every idea is recorded on a whiteboard and contributions are encouraged until all ideas are exhausted. The team members are then asked to vote on the most important items. Eventually, usually eight or so behaviours are identified as the principal ground rules which the team members agree will be crucial for everyone to support if the team is to achieve its goals. The list might include items such as “We respect and constructively respond to all views”, “We turn up on time at meetings” and “We all commit to team decisions once they are made” – but there can be no prescription to this; it’s up to the team to decide what’s in and what’s not in. Of course, the team leader will have a keen interest in ensuring the final list of ground rules is effective but they need to be careful they don’t attempt to direct the outcomes! (Utilising an independent facilitator for this process is a good way to promote positive outcomes, particularly when a high level of trust between all players hasn’t been formed.)

The great thing about this brainstorming process is the way it creates a sense of ownership with respect to the ground rules; the members develop the list and it becomes their own agreed standard for success. Thereafter, if any deviation from the standard occurs, it should be open to any member to call the group to attention regarding that deviation.

Establishing clarity around where we are headed, who does what and how we should work together as a team creates a tremendous foundation for team success. By the way, if you are in the midst of a project it can still be a very good thing to take some time out and seek clarification and team perspectives around these items. Given the history of the project, the members may well come up with an even more relevant list of team behaviours they recognise they need to uphold!

We’ve now covered a number of aspects of team building over the last four blogs which in combination can greatly enhance prospects for success. If your own team is struggling in its journey, maybe it’s a good time to call time-out and review some of the basics here. And if you have developed other ideas for achieving success in your own team we would love to hear about them!