Your project team, task force, or committee got off to a fast and enthusiastic start but lately, it’s struggling to make progress. For every step forward it feels like the team takes three steps backward. You keep hitting bottlenecks and having to revisit decisions you thought were made. Team members are becoming frustrated with one another as they work at cross-purposes. What’s going on?

The problem may have to do with the project’s “fast and enthusiastic start”. A bias for action can sometimes become the invisible saboteur in collaborative efforts. That well-meaning call to action — “let’s go get this done!” – can result in, well, a “sloppy start.”

There’s an antidote to the sloppy start, a process I call “chartering.” Chartering involves bringing team members and senior leaders together at the outset of a project to clearly articulate the answers to these questions:

Purpose: Why does this team exist? If we did not exist what would be missing or lost in the organization? Who are we here for? What are we here to contribute for them?

Role: What is our authority to make decisions? To whom is this committee accountable for its actions and decisions? What is not our job?

Goals: What concrete outcomes do we intend to accomplish as a team? What will be the visible indicators that we have been successful?

Agreements: What do we expect from one another? What shared commitments do we want to put in place in order to ensure we function well? (e.g., How we go about sharing information, meeting, making decisions, etc.)?

Support: What kind of support (e.g., guidance, resources, information, etc.) do we think we will need from others to succeed in achieving our purpose and objectives?

High performing teams invest the time and effort to create a project charter at the outset of the work. Skipping the chartering process is like blowing off breakfast so you can get to work 30 minutes earlier. It seems like a good idea until intelligence and productivity fade away as your blood sugar plummets by 9:30 am. I have to admit that I don’t always begin my day with breakfast but I rarely launch a new project team without a charter.

Once a clear project charter is in place I recommend that the team reviews it periodically to reaffirm shared purpose, goals, and agreements or to update that charter based on what the team has been learning over the course of the work.

Photo Credit: Nicholas Erwin

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