5 Documents Every Team Should Have

Good collaboration is creative brainstorms and insightful discussions. It solves problem, enables autotomy and builds relationships. 

Bad collaboration is the inability to answer questions without asking someone else. It hinders projects and processes when people aren’t sure what to do without “collaborating” first.  

The best way to avoid trivial collaboration is to document everything people need to do their jobs. This provides workforce autonomy and creates a distraction-free environment where everyone gets time to focus. 

Creating this documentation sounds daunting. But everything you need is already spread across various channels or committed to memory. 

Here are five starting documents that apply to nearly every team and every industry. 

1. Team Charter

A team charter is a canvas for any leader to map out strategy. Workplace problems such as role confusion, employee-manager tension, unnecessary overwork, etc. All of these are symptoms of a missing team charter. 

There’s no sense in following a strict team charter template for several reasons. 

The concept of “team” varies. A team charter could be for a small team within a massive corporation or for a newly launched 5-person startup.

Team charters are not confined to a certain industry. Analyzing the nuances of a given situation is a necessary step of creation. 

There’s not a template with everything needed to effectively lead and manage a team. Every situation is different and every team charter will vary accordingly. 

With that said, here are two methods for getting started. 

  • Background & Context 

  • Objective

  • Roles & Responsibilities 

  • Team Operations 

  • Budget, Resources and Available Support 

  • Final Consensus 

We’ve expanded on these here: 6 Core Components of a Team Charter Document

Another approach is to use these writing prompts: 

  • Who the Team is

  • How the Team is structured

  • How the Team fits into the larger organization

  • Who depends on the Team

  • What Team does to serve their customers/clients

  • The principles that guide the Team in those pursuits

2. Job Descriptions/Role Criteria 

A job description accurately describes the day-to-day workload and interactions associated with the role. These documents include: 

  • Day-to-day and long-term processes

  • Interactions with other teams and roles

  • Lines of communication and reporting structure

  • Individual success criteria: goals and constraints

  • How the role operates (opposed to a workload list)

Many companies task the creation of job descriptions to the HR department or a generic team member. This is a missed opportunity. 

Job descriptions should be reviewed and improved constantly as organizations change. Job descriptions are an opportunity to attract the best of the best. They can be a statement of company’s culture and innovation. The most notable example of this is the Netflix culture deck which included 129 slides about how the company operates and what it believe in. However you don’t need a viral slide deck to get some of the same benefits. Creative job descriptions are a vehicle for sharing personality, and showing how the company is unique. 

3. Goal Framework/Log

A lack of written, transparent and fair goals is connected with several employee dissatisfaction issues. For instance: 

Availability of training - Without goals, employees can’t determine what training they need. They’re tasked with projects last minute and run on a feedback treadmill that doesn’t translate to improvement. 

Relationship with their manager - Just as athletes don’t need to be best friends to win championships, managers and team members can perform well with a baseline of respect. Personal differences will bubble up without documented goals and shared investment. 

Opportunity to speak up and share feedback - Employees need to have a plan for personal growth that ties into company trajectory. This empowers them to share meaningful feedback that is backed by data from their goal logs. 

Employers don’t care - Without written goals, it’s natural for employees to feel like “just a number.” It’s also natural for employees to overlook employee contributions if they’re not tracking goals often. 

An effective framework for creating goals is S.M.A.R.T. This means all goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. 

Goal setting and accountability must be a shared responsibility to work. Every manager should take specific steps to help achieve inherited goals, and help their team improve operations.

4. Employee Onboarding Program

Employee onboarding deserves more than a checklist. A better fitting term is program, or plan of action. 

There should also be a series of documents that can be reviewed together so the new employee has a clear understanding of responsibilities, and can provide feedback. 

Programs are better than simple checklists because onboarding doesn’t just apply to new employees. Promotions, lateral job movements, organizational changes, transitioning to a remote role are just a few examples of when onboarding is needed for existing employees. This is possible if job descriptions, success criteria, software usage guides, etc. are clearly documented, and can be reviewed appropriately. 

5. Interview Protocol

Interviews will vary between departments. But similar to job descriptions, there’s an opportunity to brand the experience. Certain personality and culture questions can be asked to every single interviewee. This experience leads into the first day as employees automatically have something in common to discuss.

Additionally, each interview usually begins with a company intro about history, expectations and how things work. All interviewing managers should collaborate on this intro (without scripting it),  so interviewees get a similar feel of the company. 

Another crucial reason for interview protocol collaboration is the ability to eliminate bias. Don’t risk passing on talented and qualified candidates simply because their name, look or even past experience. Candidates should be given the opportunity to complete skill-based tests or assessments at some point in the process. These assessments will vary by position, but can be structured in the same way or share similar conventions. 

6 Core Components of a Team Charter Document

From Chernobyl to Fyre Festival, every man-made disaster of human history begins with poor teamwork and a lack of communication. Failing to establish objectives, poor leadership, twisted priorities - there are countless origins for epic failure, but there’s a common denominator. At some point, any semblance of teamwork is extinguished.

A team charter document is the best tool for fending off potential collapse of a team. This document can be applied for multiple scenarios: 

  • The framework for an organization, such as a startup or team within a corporation. 

  • Team project for college students

  • Opening a second location (small business or restaurant)

  • Military operation

  • New client kickoff 

  • New project kickoff 

  • Engineering projects (such as breakout sprint within a larger organization)

Team charters will differ based on the situation. There will always be unique elements but the core elements remain the same. 

Core Components of a Team Charter

Background & Context - Actionable guidance is impossible without background and context. This section establishes the purpose of the specific team charter you’re working on. It answers the question of, “What?” It could include simple outline the document contents. 

Objective - This section answers the question of, “Why?” Some prefer to use, “Mission & Vision” or some variation. Use this to explain why the team should care about this document. The main goal of the project or team should be included. It’s also appropriate to list the success metrics for the project, such as key performance indicators (KPIs), a financial target or audience-related goal. Another benefit of the objective section is to eliminate the possibility of scope creep, when a team begins working on deliverables outside of the project guidelines. Scope creep is a surefire way to miss deadlines and increase team confusion. 

Roles & Responsibilities - The next question to answer is, “Who?” Many teams and businesses operate with a misunderstanding of who does what. This section presents direction that is more useful than titles for LinkedIn profiles. For instance, team members with the title of “Sr. Engineer” are more effective within the team dynamic by focusing on different tasks. For instance, one group handles ops work (supporting the system, bugs, downtime) while the other focuses on development work (new features). The roles and responsibilities section provides clear direction for the team and the role of management. Will they be present in daily standups or weekly meetings? Is someone authorized to make managerial decisions if they’re away? These answers should be clarified with a series of FAQ’s and hypothetical but realistic scenarios. 

Team Operations - The next two sections answer the question of, “How?” Team operations might be  referred to as Checks, Balances, and Reviews, Team Member Authority, or Team Assessment and Evaluations. Whatever name you decide, this section explains how the team will conduct their business. This could include a meeting schedule, sprint schedules, deadlines, milestones, service-level agreements (SLAs), collaboration expectations, etc. 

Everything about what the team creates should be explained. This included processes for how and when artifacts are created, and where they are stored. For example, a sales team might produce meeting notes after sales calls that are stored in Salesforce. The next associate reaching out to that customer would review notes prior to the call.

It’s important to separate this section from roles and responsibilities to demonstrate the importance of teamwork and team unity. It serves as an accountability tool for teams and management.  

Budget, Resources and Available Support - A misunderstanding of budget and resources is an easy way to crush team morale. At this point, team members understand what they have to do and how, but need to understand what they’ll be working with. For instance, will a marketing team get a budget for design work or will they have to use free resources? This section is useful for providing support avenues if team members are absent or fall behind. Clearly stating the budget provides accountability for managers. They are tasked with keeping the budget consistent instead of pulling resources during the course of a project to serve a wider-scale budget need. 

Final Consensus - No team charter is complete without a final section of unified approval and team consensus. The word ‘team’ is a crucial aspect of a team charter that should not be overlooked. This document is not a delegation of duties. It’s meant to bring a team together before they begin a project or start working at a new company. Many teams include a period of “negotiation” during this section, which allows team members to share their feedback and request any changes up front. The final step of any team charter is to have everyone involved sign off to confirm consensus. This could be with written or digital signatures. Whatever the method, every team member must confirm their unconditional approval. With that said, there’s no reason for this to be a rigid process. The information and procedures will naturally evolve over time, but this must be done in an organized and transparent fashion. 

Team Charter: Principles in Action

A team charter isn’t limited to any industry or purpose. The same or similar has been applied throughout history when communication and teamwork is paramount. Consider these examples from an elite military unit and a software behemoth. 

United States Navy SEALs

Communication and teamwork is a life and death matter for military personnel. Yet commanders face similar circumstances as business leaders when they prepare for a mission. Each commander creates a presentation of how his team will operate, and presents it to senior officers.

This was largely done with flashy PowerPoint presentations filled with buzzwords. Leif Babin and Jocko Willink met in the mid 2000’s and debuted a new strategy. They focused on directions that are easy to follow and easy to understand, opposed to being impressive for senior officers. They developed a comprehensive checklist which resembles the team charter core components. 

  • Analyze the mission. Understand the intent of everyone involved, and the endstate (the goal). State your own intent and endstate for the specific mission.

  • Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.

  • Decentralize the planning process. Empower leaders within the team. 

  • Determine a specific course of action (prioritizing simplicity). 

  • Plan for likely contingencies throughout the operation.

  • Mitigate controllable risks (as much as possible).

  • Demonstrate leadership by delegating portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders. 

  • Constantly check and question the plan as information emerges.

  • Ask questions, encourage discussion and team interaction to promote comprehension. 

  • Conduct a post-operational debrief after execution. Implement lessons learned going forward. 

This strategy was shared by Babin and Willink in their #1 New York Times bestseller, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.” The pair launched their consulting firm, Echelon Front, in 2011. They provide workshops, training and presentations for business leaders looking to improve team operations. 

Google 

Google’s People Operations Team conducted interviews and analyzed data to identify the five keys to a successful Google team. The results pair well with team charter ideals, and provide further insights for team charter creation.

After 200+ interviews, and analysis of 250 attributes within 180+ active Google teams - they came up with the following:

  • Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

  • Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

  • Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?

  • Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?

  • Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

All of these elements demonstrate the importance of team buy-in and cohesion, another reason why the negotiation and consensus aspect of a team charter is so important. The data created a new routine at Google, where teams conduct a daily 10-minute pulse-check on the five dynamics to ensure good standing. 

A team charter is one of dozens of documents that can fortify the effectiveness and morale of your team. Here’s inspiration for your next leg of document creation.