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The Project Team Charter Applied to Cross-Cultural Project Teams


The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) 5th Edition refers to several planning documents, which are all critical to project success in all varieties of project environments.

But in a cross-cultural Project team scenario, there is one preparatory document that can literally make or break a project but is not mentioned in the PMBOK – This is the Project Team Charter.

A Team Charter is a foundation for Project team operations. It documents the purpose of the team, how the team will work and behave, the expected outcomes, etc. It gives clarity and an operating framework or structure to the team, and effectively sets its boundaries.

Model of Group Development

Bruce Tuckman’s Model of Group development has defined the 5 stages of a team lifecycle: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.

Within this framework, we can think of 2 different scenarios of Cross-cultural team formation:

  1. The creation of a brand new Distributed project team: The entry point into the Tuckman model is at the Forming stage.
  2. The evolution of an existing co-located Project team into a multi-location/ multi-cultural team: The entry point into the Tuckman model is at the Storming stage (with some added attributes of the Adjourning phase, such as Separation anxiety).

The development and adoption of a well thought-out Team charter would serve to reduce the duration of – or even eliminate – the Storming stage and help to move directly into the Norming & Performing stages.

Key Considerations in Team Charter

In the above scenarios of Cross-cultural team formation, creation of a Team Charter by engaging the full Project team would ensure that the team members are not just aware of the cross-cultural considerations, but are also clear about how these considerations impact the various team members and the overall project progress.

Group analysis of the various considerations by the entire Project team would force the team members to think and understand the implications of the considerations on the team & the project, and help to jointly develop the “Adaptation” strategy as documented in the HBR article “Managing Multi-cultural teams“.

In this picture, the various considerations have been classified into 4 high-level categories for ease of identification. Some of the elements may logically belong under more than one category, but have been placed under the best fit category.

Best Practices for Developing an Effective Project Team Charter

  1. An Ishikawa/ Fishbone diagram can be used to identify all directly & indirectly impacted stakeholders in a project.
  2. Conducting a Team Charter Definition workshop, with all the key stakeholders actively participating, can really break the ice in team interactions and ensure optimal team productivity as well as team retention.
  3. Prior to conducting the Team Charter workshop, sharing the Team Charter elements as well as other input materials with the Project team can help the team to attend the workshop with the right depth of early preparation, thus making the Workshop more effective.
  4. Also, conducting a Cultural awareness training (covering the cultural differences between various major cultural groups within the project team) ahead of the Team Charter workshop, will enable the Project team to best internalize and understand the points of view from different groups of stakeholders.
  5. The Project Sponsor should actively & visibly support the Team Charter definition exercise – Implementing the Team Charter is a bottom-up effort, but the application of any course corrections will require active support from the Project Sponsor and other Senior management/ Executive stakeholders.

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