Writing A Team Charter

Mar 13, 2018 · 5 min read

I’ve been to dozens of different meetups (like, say, Agile On The Bench) and conferences (such as the sadly deceased dConstruct) where ideas like a team charter have been presented and always seemed like a great idea. So, it’s odd that, even when I ran my own team, as both a tech lead and later as a product manager, I never thought to introduce the idea.

After joining the BBC News Apps team I finally got to see the magic of this idea in action. As part of a series of improvements that have been highly effective in making us a better team, the project manager (the soon to be sorely missed Rosie) organised a team away day during the recent #snowmageddon in London.

Those of us who could make it to our sister office in West London found an incredible array of old technology (from an 80’s mobile phone to an original BBC ident generator), sugar, and new ideas awaiting them.

One of the great bits of old tech that can be discovered around the BBC offices

After a start that included collating our ideas around the definition of ready and definition of done, followed by a little interlude involving building towers of pasta and marshmallow we got down to the task of creating our first ever team charter.

We started by dividing into small 3–4 person teams and brainstorming what we felt the values of our team were, or should be. After twenty minutes of post-it note generation we came back together and presented our ideas, team by team.

At this stage what was kind of interesting, was that the makeup of the team really showed in the themes of each teams tickets. For example, the team with our Principal Tester, Tom, had great ideas around pairing, collaboration and sharing knowledge with engineers, which we were then able to widen out to include the whole team. Similarly, if you took a moment to look at our Product Manager’s calendar, you would appreciate the sentiment behind Jo’s “Focus Fridays” idea.

Introducing SDD — Sugar Driven Development

Perhaps the thing I loved the most was how there was no one person who was either more vocal or more influential; there were great ideas from everyone from our graduate engineer to our engineering manager.

So, we now had a large pool of ideas. What next?

I’ve always admired how respectful our team is of each other and this was never more evident in the next process where we grouped common ideas, expanded some others to be more inclusive and discarded those that were not perhaps as aspirational as some of the others. We tried really hard to narrow it to five, but in the end we got it down to seven and then, finally, six!

Pasta and Marshmallow Towers

As of the time of writing (because it is only our current team charter) our values are

A Great Culture
We want to create a great team culture that demonstrates empathy, respect & transparency. We do not blame, we do not see failure as failing.

Take Pride in Sharing Knowledge
We are generous with our knowledge and recognise that we each have something to teach and be taught.

Be Lean
We build, measure, learn with our product & our team. We try to keep things simple and focussed.

One Team, One Dream
We take collective responsibility for the output of the team, and strive towards a common goal. Our role functions (Dev, Test, UX, Product) do not limit our contribution to the team.

Best Idea Wins
We make decisions based on reason not rank. Every team member has the opportunity to propose ideas, and all are valued equally.

Caffeine / Cake-fuelled Collaboration
Some of us like sugary treats, some prefer fresh coffee. We all like working together to build the best news apps. Pairing up is awesome.

The charter is forming (complete with whiteboard coffee emoji)

We also scored each value as to how much we embody it right now so we can average all the scores and draw up a spider diagram of where we are now and where we get to in the coming weeks and months. After all, we aspire to be Lean, but we cannot be Lean if we don’t measure and learn.

Note: these are not our actual scores

So, what happens now? Well, firstly, we’ll be putting these on our dashboard for everyone in our team, and our department, to see. By doing this we share our values, we remind ourselves of what they are and we encourage other teams to build their own team charter.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll have many new starters joining us (yep — we’re hiring!) and we will evolve and change as we form, storm, norm and perform. Our charter will help them to integrate more quickly. But at some point we may well feel that these values don’t quite align with who we are anymore…that’s right, and normal, and is a great indicator that it’s time for another team day!

When I reflect on the last decade of my career, there are a handful of teams that felt exceptional to me (such as here at the BBC) and it’s clear now that one of the reasons was that, although we didn’t explicitly create a charter, every member of the team embodied our unspoken, but shared, charter values.

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