Broadly speaking, a team compact is a document that:
- Establishes guidelines and boundaries for behavior within a team.
- Clarifies what’s expected of each member at different stages of the team’s task or project.
- Determines a framework for interactions in the present as well as future time.
A team compact is similar to the team charter that project managers create for their teams. A critical difference is that a team charter is created by a team leader with input from key stakeholders, such as the project sponsor and team members whereas a team compact is created by the team.
Importance of a team compact for virtual teams
Very often, members of a virtual team have not worked with each other before. Consequently, they have uncertainty about others in the team (e.g., can I depend on this member? is s/he capable of doing the work? will s/he watch out for me?) and the work to be carried out in the team. This uncertainty inhibits the formation of trust, which is an important prerequisite for creating a cohesive and high performance team.
When a team creates a team compact, it is giving itself a chance to reduce (if not eliminate) the uncertainty faced by its members. As part of the process of creating a team compact, team members create rules of engagement, which make explicit the what, when, who, and how of task completion, decision-making, and communication within the team. Among the things covered by the rules of engagement are the nature and frequency of communication, communication media to be used, the values that the team will live by, the response times for messages, how conflict will be resolved, how the decisions will be made (including who makes what decisions), and how the tasks will be completed (including who accomplishes what tasks).
The team compact’s value is in compelling the team to discuss roles, expectations, and protocols. In addition to clarifying expectations for team members and improving coordination within the team, creating a team compact helps a team develop its identity.
Creating the team compact
The team compact should be the product of full team participation. This may require facilitation and help from the team leader, but be sure not to dictate the contents. Expect that this will take a lot of discussion. We recommend the use of a shared desktop or a shared document (which all can see simultaneously, such as a Google Doc) for facilitating full team participation.
Work with your team to prepare a formal document that has the following sections. The contents of the document should follow from a discussion in the team. Avoid creating a document first and then seeking feedback from your team. Remember the team can make small adjustments later. Also note that every team compact is different. Use the following recommendations as rough guidelines, and include whatever variations work for your project.
1. Mission and Objectives
The source of all other assertions in this document should be the project mission and project objectives.
- Project mission – the assignment given to the team, in simple terms.
- Project objectives – these are the measurable characteristics of the project that define its scope. They should be linked to metrics that help you measure progress and define success. To create project objectives, brainstorm goals that define the scope of your team project’s mission.
2. Guiding Values
Your team should identify the values that it will live by. These values will form the foundation for identifying what path the team should take at various points in the project when the team encounters problems, decisions to be made, and conflict. (Something that helps guide us when we are making a decision).
Some examples of values for you to consider:
- Excellence – professional, efficient, and effective use of all resources
- Dedicated – conviction, perseverance, highly motivated, working together towards a common mission and goal.
3. Expectations for motivation (what will motivate each member of the team?)
Based on your team’ situation, what kind of motivation is required from each member in order to complete the project? Conduct a frank discussion about both the resources and the limitations of the team, and how they will affect the work process. Virtual team members must be very self-disciplined and responsible for sustaining their own motivation. Wherever there may be weak points in team members’ motivation, consider ways of boosting it – this can be accomplished with support and communication from other team members, or by creative use of technology.
4. What? When? Who? How? Charting out a chronological plan
Figure out what needs to be done and by when. Start with major milestones such as early deadlines, deliverables, and team meetings. Think about who will tackle the items on the timeline, and how the team will conduct itself while working.
- Note: Make sure to schedule regular After Action Reviews in the timeline. After Action Reviews are a tool for objectively assessing whether decisions, processes, or events were effective and worked for the project’s goals. Please visit the After Action Reviews page tosee what an AAR consists of, how to faciliate an AAR, and a sample AAR.
5. Roles of members
Formal roles are often based on expertise, and are task or content related. You have identified the “owner” on the timeline, and members who will have inputs.
- Is there overarching work that must also be done?
- What roles exist for the whole project (not just for individual milestones)?
- You might consider breaking up the work according to expertise, but the team should not be limited by that.
6. Rules of Engagement
For work in a team, rules of engagement typically define the following protocols.
- Some points to consider: who is expected to communicate what and to whom, how, and when? What communication systems will we use for communication within the team? What should be the tone of our communication?
Conflict resolution protocols
- Some points to consider: How will we resolve conflict in the team? Who will have the final say in case of conflict?
Decision making protocols
- Some points to consider: How will we make decisions in our team? What decisions should the team make and what decisions are to be made by members themselves?
- Some points to consider: How often will we meet? Who will call the meetings? Who will attend the meetings? How/where shall we meet? Who will create the agenda for a meeting? Who will take the minutes? How will we circulate the minutes?
A useful tool for developing rules of engagement in the Rules of Engagement Matrix, creating by crossing the protocol categories (e.g., communication, conflict resolution, etc.) with the questions (what, who, how, etc.). This matrix provides you with a useful set of questions to start with when creating the rules of engagement for your team.
Remember that the rules of engagement should flow from the determinations you have already made (mission, values, etc). During the creation of rules of engagement, it will be useful to ask team members to list the constraints they face to accomplish their work (i.e., constraints related to technology, physical space, working hours, holiday observances, etc.). Also ask them to list aspects of culture that influence how they interact with others. Make sure that these constraints and cultural aspects are considered when creating the rules of engagement. Your decisions for this section should be quite specific. Note that there may be some overlap with some of the items that you have already defined in the team compact prior to creating the rules of engagement.
Here are some sample points in rules of engagement:
- We will communicate the status of each other’s work, no matter how bad the news is.
- We will speak our mind rather than hide things from each other. When we evaluate each other’s work, our focus will be on the work and not on who did it (focus will be on WHAT rather than WHO).
- We will challenge each other in the spirit of helping the team exceed its expectations (e.g., can “we” think of a way to make this easier for the customer? rather than “did you not realize that this is going to be difficult for the customer?”)
- We will come prepared to meetings and in case we are unable to attend, we will complete our work and forward its status to the team leader.
- In case the team leader is unable to attend, member A will lead the meeting.
- In case of any conflict about what we should do, we will refer to our guiding values to resolve our conflict.
- We will respond to email or phone queries from others in the team within 24 hours. If we don’t have an answer, we will at least acknowledge the query within 24 hours and let the sender know about our inability to help.