Last update on July 15, 2019

Communication across cultures can be difficult to manage with a distributed team. What is chartering and how can it help in managing remote teams?

The project deadline is looming in Chiang Mai, but your programmer is snoozing under a tree in Budapest and your copywriter is missing in Medellín. You need a virtual charter before you lose yourself online. Research on managing remote teams suggests that their failure rests directly on the difficulty of building trust and positive relationships across borders, time zones, and cultural differences. The leadership styles of old are no longer relevant in a world full of remote teams.

Although there are other challenges such as technology and internal processes, the twin challenges of managing remote teams are the most daunting. One of the best practices used by these teams is chartering. A well-constructed team charter, which basically lays down the ground rules for the group’s collaboration, can significantly improve collaboration within a remote team.

What is chartering?

A charter is just a written document that all team members agree on. It can be general in scope, touching on some key values that everyone can agree on. However, to be a successful and effective team, you need a well-defined strategy on how to accomplish team goals.

Managing remote teams (Photo: Christin Hume / Unsplash)

Having a detailed charter also ensures that members are working on the same page throughout the collaborative process, making managing remote teams more efficient.

Essential items for a remote team charter

Team goals

State team goals clearly in the charter and ensure that all team members understand them. What are your team’s project, process, or quality goals? Does the end product exude the qualities and values that the team aimed for? Is getting along more important than doing the job right? How well these goals are articulated can make a difference in the performance of the team.

Skills inventory

This allows members to assess their strengths and developmental needs. Do you have strong editing skills but are weak on listening skills? Are you fantastic on graphics and presentations but need to develop your writing skills? More than anything else, this inventory allows the members to allocate team resources wisely and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

Ground rules

Team collaboration needs some structure. A laissez-faire environment, particularly with remote workers, is a recipe for disaster. Team members need to know what the ground rules and expectations are; this helps them cope with difficult situations better. What are your rules for online meetings; how often does the team have them and how long do they really need to be? How do you confront dissenting views among members? What level of commitment do you expect from each other? What do you expect members to do if they have problems that can potentially affect the performance of the team?

Personality types

Knowing the personality types and learning styles of your teammates helps identify how you and your teammates process their world and your work. It gives members another window from which to know each other.

For instance, some people prefer avoiding confusion and conflict, often making decisions based on feelings. However, conflict is an unavoidable by-product of any collaborative work. Knowing that a team member is averse to conflict can assist others in the team to resolve issues while minimizing direct confrontations.

Potential barriers

The premise of a charter is the ability to plan ahead. In a team setting, there are several potential barriers to effective teamwork; these include miscommunication, different time zones, personality conflicts, cultural misunderstandings, and differences in language skills.

For example, if the team’s goal is the delivery of a proposal and a team member located in a new market is tasked with writing the business environment assessment but has difficulty writing in English language, this is a potential barrier. Identifying potential barriers allows your team to be able to anticipate when a stumbling block might present itself.

Conflict management

Teams need to realize right from the start that conflicts are neither bad nor good; how a team emerges from a conflict is where this value judgment comes in. Conflict often stems from unmet expectations, differing values, or unchecked biases. There are several conflict management strategies; what is important is identifying how you plan to deal with team conflicts before you’re confronted by them.

Lessons learned

Probably the most valuable thing you can take away from any collaborative work is the lessons learned throughout the process. Recognizing what was successful and what went wrong ensures that successes are repeated and mistakes are not. A team that hasn’t learned from its mistakes will repeat them again; the same is the case for individual team members.

Chartering by no means is the panacea for managing remote teams and the challenges that face them, especially while working in a startup environment. But by clearly defining a team charter, the team members can build up their communicative muscles as a group and also achieve work goals collectively.