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Can Chartering Change the World?

The world is moving away from command and control hierarchies, and into a world of teams. This makes it increasingly important that we build high functioning teams. The single most important thing a team can do to ensure success is chartering.

Agile teams, among others, have been practicing chartering for years. This is not a new concept, but it’s been refined as it’s gained importance.

What is Chartering? Chartering is the activity of building the team, which establishes how the team will work together and builds trust. We use the active verb, because the value is in the activity, rather than the piece of paper that documents the agreement.

Here’s why Chartering works:

Set the container. CTI uses the term “container” to describe the invisible bond that holds a team together. Once I started seeing containers, I couldn’t unsee them. When a team’s container is cracked, you can see them violating norms without addressing it. When there’s no container at all, you see a team where no one knows who is even on the team, different people show up the meetings every time, and it’s really hard to chase down work.

Chartering builds a container. Most commonly teams create a “designed alliance” or “working agreement” where they agree on how they will work together. They answer questions such as “What will we do when we fail? How long will we struggle before we ask for help? How will we make decisions?”

Build trust. Trust is not a binary switch you can flip, but you can lay some nice groundwork for trust to develop. You can also develop good habits to continually build trust as the team moves forward. Getting the team members to look each other in the eye and get vulnerable will help with trust. In the 90s this involved falling backwards. We’ve evolved since then and now it’s really about getting vulnerable with your co workers.

The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams portrays a simple exercise where each team members shares strengths and weaknesses of self and others. Sound scary? It’s humbling, but it also builds the relationships. Another great activity is “assumption clearing” where team members pair off and share the assumptions they have about the other person.

I often joke that “I’m not happy in chartering unless there are tears.” It’s a bit of a joke, of course I don’t want to make people cry. However, teams that shed tears during chartering end up being unstoppable. They’ve broken down the barriers, and they trust each other.

When do you Charter? It would be so nice if all teams neatly charter when they first form. Because Agile is a relatively new practice, Agile teams have had the luxury of chartering and it made sense because they were newly forming. Teams that have been in place for years can still benefit from Chartering if their container is broken. Teams should recharter when there is a change in team members, change in strategy or when they simply feel like they need to recharter.

Have you chartered with your team? How did it go? Let us know!

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