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The Transient Team Charter

In nearly any industry, the best work is accomplished by teams. The best teams are those that grow together and have some stability. Team stability is important because teams go through Tuckman’s stages of group development. It takes time to make it to the performing stage, at which point trust, psychological safety, and comfort working […]

By Dan Greenberg

May 20, 2021

In nearly any industry, the best work is accomplished by teams. The best teams are those that grow together and have some stability. Team stability is important because teams go through Tuckman’s stages of group development. It takes time to make it to the performing stage, at which point trust, psychological safety, and comfort working together can lead to high performance. When team members move in and out on a regular basis, the team has to constantly reset; they might never escape Tuckman’s forming phase.

However, while team stability is the ideal, it is not always a reality. Sometimes, management’s hands are tied, people are needed elsewhere, and a team will have to make do with a routinely changing set of personnel.

Transient teams can benefit from some permanency in the form of a team charter. That way, as people rotate in and out, the values and culture remain consistent. Struggling with team instability at your organization? Here are a few suggested transient team norms to help you get started:

    1. Don’t start anything you can’t finish.

      Be aware of the limited time you have on this team and that when you move on, that big initiative you had so much passion for will likely die with no one to champion it. So it’s important to leave your mark by way of smaller changes that you have time to see through to fruition.
    2. If you don’t like some tool or process, change it.

      The good and bad news about transient teams is they often have no permanent manager. It can feel like there’s no one available to ask for permission to abandon a useless process or adopt a potentially useful one. This can be a benefit, though, in that team members have complete freedom to work in whatever way is most effective. As the team composition is so unstable, a new team member quickly becomes the old hat. So, if LeanKit’s not working for you, try Trello or Jira. Know of a refactoring that would make the codebase more readable? Go for it. The only exception is not to break rule number one. Don’t get halfway through migrating from LeanKit to Jira and then leave the team.
    3. You’re in charge.

      Building off of rule number two, remember that everyone here is only visiting. Your only responsibility is to play nicely with the other folks on the team and deliver value to the customer. There are no rules you can’t break so long as stakeholders are happy and you aren’t inconveniencing your teammates. This leads us into…
    4. Customer satisfaction remains the number one priority.

      Nail down who the primary stakeholders are and find out what is important to them. Focusing on customer satisfaction eliminates much of the unnecessary wasteful processes because it clarifies the “what’ and leaves the “how” up to the individual team members.
    5. Keep things simple.

      Since onboarding and offboarding will happen so regularly, minimize the overhead. Avoid recurring calendar invites as someone will have to own those and every time that owner rotates off the team, meetings need to be transferred. Try having the most recent person to join the team onboard the next one. As they just went through it themselves, they have the most up-to-date knowledge on which documentation is accurate and which is outdated. Make it so someone can easily spin themselves up in a half-day or a day. Then they can begin contributing immediately, because they may not be here for long.

    Use Instability to Your Advantage

    While many experts preach team stability as desirable, you may not have control of it. That does not have to slow you down. In fact, the freedom from micromanagement and the fresh perspectives of frequent new additions to the team may be a competitive advantage. With a stable team charter like the example posed here, your transient team can thrive!

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    Looking to learn more about team building? Check out our free team launch handout.

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