Do you have a new team or are you starting a new project? Most teams rush into the work of the team without getting clear agreements in the beginning about where they are going or how they want to get there. They wait until they hit a bump in the road, and then are forced to work out agreements in the midst of frustration and confusion. Much team conflict is due to confusion and lack of agreement on expectations. Clarifying your expectations upfront will set up your team for success.
Have you worked together in the past?
It’s a big mistake to assume that since people have worked together in the past, they are already a team. Each time a group of people come together around a new project, regardless of their past experiences together, they need to clarify their expectations. Even ongoing workgroups need to clarify expectations when they approach a new major initiative.
Clarify Expectations for These Six Aspects
Create a “team charter” that clarifies each of these six aspects of team work. As a team, discuss the questions listed and record your agreements. Many of these questions can be answered immediately. Others will need to be answered or modified as you get into the work.
Document your team’s agreements and update them as you proceed.
Vision and Values
- What is the purpose of this team? Why does it exist? Why is it worth investing this time and effort?
- What shared values are needed to guide how we approach our work and how we work with each other?
- What would we see that would indicate we have been successful?
- How will we organize to accomplish the work? What is the best structure? What roles are needed?
- What planning and problem solving process are we going to use?
- How will we make decisions?
- What are the deliverables?
- How will we measure success?
- What are the timeframes?
Communications and Coordination
- What information needs to be shared?
- When will we meet, how frequently. where, etc.
- How will we keep up to date on the team’s progress? How will we communicate between meetings? How often?
Authority and Accountability
- To whom is the team accountable?
- What is the team’s decision-making authority? Do any decisions require outside approval? If so, how will approval be obtained?
- What decisions can be made by subgroups and what decisions need to be made by the whole team?
- How will we track and report progress on commitments and action items?
- Who are the members of the team and what are their primary areas of expertise? Is any other expertise needed? Are there any other groups or individuals that need to be represented or consulted?
- How is the team financially supported? Do we have the materials and technology needed?
- Are the time demands on team members understood and considered reasonable?
- What information do we need? Do we have access to all the information we need?
- Do our team members need any special training? (i.e. Working as a team, problem-solving, listening skills, etc.)
If you take care of the beginning, the end will take care of itself.
Unfortunately, many teams never clarify their expectations. They get bogged down in details and never reach their full potential. If your team is struggling, use this list to determine if it’s because of lack of agreement on your expectations.
Jesse, great advice.
I have seen this failure to set expectations so many times in the business world.
And, in my six Outward Bound experiences, I have seen the same rush to get “doing.” The cost of failing to agree on the fundamentals of project organization would inevitably kick the group in the backside. Every time!
I so appreciate the quality of the information you share with every post.
You point out quite well, Dave, that our natural tendency is to jump into the task – and the price we pay is that it takes much more time to double back and clean up the mess, which is usually accompanied by bad feelings. Outward Bound is a wonderful venue for learning about teamwork. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
Thanks Jesse ! Great Content. Bill
Thank, Bill, for your kind words and for taking the time to leave a comment. Much appreciated!
It is really important to get the team dynamics sorted out before moving on with a project to avoid complications later. And I loved the point you made about how you can’t assume that a team that has worked together before will function just as well on a new project. Team dynamics, goals etc. need to be re-defined everytime a new project is undertaken and, sometimes, even during the middle of an ongoing project.
– Sindoora (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)
Thanks for your comments Sindoora. So often I see people assume that since they’ve worked together before and know each other well that they can just jump into a new project. A team always needs to be in agreement on these expectations – they can do it before there are problems and avoid some bumps, or they can do it after there are problems, which takes more time and is more difficult. Taking the time upfront to charter the team saves a lot of time later. And as you point out, it is important to revisit these agreements to see if anything has changed.
Such important areas to consider even when you know the team. Protocols for conversation can also be important as we often neglect this when we know others well. The lines between colleague and friend can sometimes get blurred when a team works together over a sustained period so coming back to how we wish to behave is important.
I enjoyed the post 🙂
Thanks, Donna, for adding to the conversation.
Just helping a new team start up at a major utility – found this article (and the simple model) really helpful. How many times do teams get caught out by jumping straight into task!!
It happens way too often, Andy. We jump into the task without clarifying how we are going to work together, and then have to backtrack and do all this work after we run into trouble. I’m glad you found this helpful, and I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know.
ps. You might also find it helpful to share this post with the team after they have created their charter and begun work: What Team Members Can (and should) Do to Help Their Team Become High Performing
A bit late to comment since you first posted this content, but hope still on time to say great input.
Thank you, Sylvana. It’s never too late to leave a kind comment 🙂
Great article and love this quote: “If you take care in the beginning, the end will take care of itself.”
Thank you, David.
What a great summary – thanks very much, Jess. I especially like the idea of a group charter. I am a lecturer at Unitec in Auckland, NZ, and we often start the semester with a class treaty or charter. This semester I am using a Team Based Learning approach with my class – I think a group charter will work really well.
I agree, Doreen. Coming to agreement on what they want to accomplish and how they will do it will be a strong support for their learning. Best wishes with your class. It sounds exciting.
Thanks Jesse for helping me sought out the major steps in setting up a team. I would like to talk to you maybe through email or contact anytime from now at your convenience. need a little help
Glad to hear you found it helpful. You can easily send me a note through the contact form on my website.