Team manual and team charter – my two favourite workshops to run with new teams or teams with new members

When a new team is formed or an existing team goes through change, it is important to take some time for team members to learn more about who each other are and how best to work together. In this post, I summarise my two favourite workshops to help teams get off to a good start: team manual and team charter.

Team Manual

I first learnt about the team manual exercise from Emily Webber, who I worked with at the Land Registry.

It is the best workshop format I have found for kicking off new teams. Each person takes the time before the meeting to answer 9 questions. They write their answers in Miro, Whimsical, a slide deck, or perhaps even on some paper if everyone is in the office. They then take time to explain what they’ve written to the team. The questions are designed to help others learn about who each other are and how they like to work, so there are usually some questions or better yet a bit of good-natured banter at the end of each presentation. At the end, everybody can refer back to each other’s manuals if they need a reminder of each other’s preferences. Check out Emily’s website for instructions and a template.

Taking inspiration from the skills market exercise, I have recently added 3 new questions to the team manual template that I use. This enables everyone to build an understanding of each other’s roles, professional strengths and learning priorities without having to run a separate workshop. The questions I added are:

  • Current skills (that allow me to do my job)
  • Hidden skills (you might not know I have)
  • Desired skills (I want to develop or learn)

This exercise usually takes about 90 minutes to do for a team of 8 or 9. Below is a screenshot of the template I use to run the team manual in Whimsical

a screenshot of the template I use to run the team manual in Whimsical

Team Charter

The team charter documents the team’s values and working practices. It takes everything everyone has learnt about each other from the team manual exercise and turns it into a set of ways of working that should work well for the team.

I used to run this exercise by posing the question “This is an awesome team to work on because…” and giving everyone 5 minutes to write their ideas. We then talk through what we’ve added, group and theme the ideas, and vote on our favourite ones. Someone volunteers to write this into a team charter poster after the meeting, and everyone gets a chance to review it before it is finalised. Once finished, it should be printed and put up on the wall in the team space, and/or stored somewhere prominently in one of the team’s electronic tools.

Nowadays, I prefer to use the anti-team charter format. Again, this is a format that I first used at the Land Registry, though I can’t find it documented anywhere online. Instead of asking people to answer the question “This is an awesome team to work on because…”, they instead answer the question “This is the worst team to work on because…”. In the end, the person doing the writing writes up the opposite of what the worst team in the World does. And this becomes how the team will try to work together. I find that the workshop is a lot more fun this way – people can get creative about some of the bad team behaviours they write up, and they get to exchange some horror stories about toxic workplaces.

This exercise takes about 45 minutes to do. Below is an example of a team charter from the GOV.UK Content History Team.

an example of a team charter from the GOV.UK Content History Team

Positive outcomes

I have been running these workshops in this format for about 5 years now. Everywhere I have done them I have had good feedback from participants, and have often found myself drafted in to facilitate similar workshops for other teams or organisations.

Examples of positive signals I see after running these workshops include team members:

  • being mindful about each other’s focus time and productive times of day when scheduling work and meetings
  • using their regular retrospectives to hold each other account on sticking to their team charter
  • striking up friendships as they find out new things that they have in common

Need help facilitating these workshops for your team?

Get in touch!

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