Writing a charter

A charter or terms of reference (TOR) document outlines a basis for the exercise of authority by a group. The group may be an existing team, or specially formed for the purposes of fulfilling the charter or TOR.

The two terms are often interchangeable. However, terms of reference is more appropriate for a group that is responsible for reviewing and monitoring, whereas a charter is more appropriate for a team charged with actually executing a project.

In either case, the document structure will be similar. A good sample structure is:

  1. Background   OR   Why is this needed?
  2. Purpose   OR   What will the team achieve?
  3. Authority   OR   What has the team been authorised to do?
  4. Key Activities   OR   What are the main ongoing tasks of the team?
  5. Deliverables   OR   What must the team produce and by when?
  6. Membership   OR   Who is (or can be) part of the team?
  7. Structure   OR   What roles have been defined? How is the assignment of roles decided?
  8. Schedule   OR   How often will the team meet and when? Is there a fixed end date?
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Moir Ferguson (not verified) — Fri, 27/03/2009 - 01:36

That is very intereting, but I am really interested in how to develop a "Management Charter" with a team of middle and senior managers in a university library. I intend using as the basis of our discussions, the National Occupational Standards as developed by the Management Standarsd Centre, but I need to get bye in from the management team themsleves to make it relevant to all levels and throughout the department.

Any ideas how I can bring it to life???

Stephen Bounds — Sat, 28/03/2009 - 00:25

Hi Moir,

Good question. Here's my take: a charter is an authority to exercise certain powers, not an instruction or directive. There is a degree of volunteerism in most charters which isn't present in a more typical vision or project scope statement.

In simple terms, a charter provides people with a green light to do things that they want to do anyway, but would like clarification on how they should be going about it.

This means that a charter should be written in empowering terms (managers SHOULD do X, Y) rather than constraining terms (managers MUST NOT do X, Y). The charter should also identify why certain kinds of actions are desirable (managers should do X, Y to HELP ACHIEVE Z).

By getting your managers to collaboratively decide on strategic goals and explain that the Charter will give them extra freedom to decide exactly how to reach these goals, you will engage their imagination and improve the chance of buy-in. On the other hand, imposing a charter in a top-down fashion would be a risky approach, likely to be dismissed as just more management reporting garbage.

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