NLP and the Project Charter – a way of creating harmony across the team

Project Charters can be a very effective way of bringing a team together and quickly normalising behaviours to create high performing teams, even for global operations.

This summer I facilitated a workshop to create a Project Charter to help bring together a newly formed global projects team formed from three geographic regions.

What is it ?
Sometimes Project or Team Charters can be quite weighty tomes that effectively double as a Service Level Agreement to other departments.  To me though, a charter is a simple document that explicitly states what our agreed purpose, shared identity, common values and expected behaviours will be going forward.  In fact, the exercise of coming together and agreeing these is far more important than the piece of paper itself.  Has your team been through a similar exercise yet ?

Why do this ?
In my opinion, it’s not just a nice to have.  Even when bringing together just different personality types, let alone various functions and cultures, differences in behaviours, based on underlying differences in values, can create disharmony in a team and quickly lead to misunderstandings and dysfunctional behaviour.  Explicitly discussing and sharing values to create a common identity helps to establish a norm and acceptable boundaries, and the team becomes largely self policing instead of burning management time and energy enforcing arbitrary rules.  Are differences in expectations and behaviours resolved in your team yet ?

What is Normal ?
For those familiar with the ‘Storming, Forming, Norming then Performing’ mantra of team-building, this method of facilitation provides an expressway through the uncomfortable storming and forming stages to build a high performing team quickly – a panacea to every project manager.  Is your team still stuck in the forming stage ?

As you may imagine, norms and behaviours across the recently formed global team were markedly different in the component regions of Americas, Europe and Asia.  The company was Indian owned but with an HQ in London and an English heritage.  What would the dominant culture be ?  Would it be dominated by its commercial sector, the fact that it ran many marketing led projects, or influenced by the team’s strong foundation in New Product Development ?  Well, why try to impose one from the centre when you have the option of letting the team work it out for yourselves ?

Communicating the message
I produced and sent out a short presentation on what the exercise would be about, what a typical outcome might look like, and how it would be run.  It is important to do this as workshops are different depending on the cultural norms in force.  We need to make use of every available channel to communicate, especially when day to day pitfalls of communication are compounded by oceans of separation, not to speak of technology barriers.  They saw it and read it, I told them, then we did it.  How are things communicated in your team ?

NLP at work.
Aside from the communication and facilitation angle, what has NLP got to do with it?  I use Dilt’s hierarchy of neurological levels to express how we bond most strongly from ‘Purpose’, through ‘Identity’, ‘Beliefs and Values’, and ‘Capability’ to ‘Behaviours’.  (Chapter 2.7 in my book).  Hence, to influence behaviours, we really need to be starting out with a discussion of common purpose and team identity.  Does this start to sound relevant to projects now ?  In this instance, Team Values could be largely cascaded from the set of company values, which were really well developed.  (You could tell that they were good as everyone knew them !)  What are your values ?

Values and Beliefs
A warning about Values.  Values are just Beliefs that we attach a feeling of right or wrong to.  ‘The sun will rise in the morning’ is a belief without associated value, but ‘it is wrong to steal’ has value associated with it.  Although we feel passionate about them, they are largely arbitrary and a product of our upbringing.  (Did the London rioters feel that it was wrong to steal ?)  Hence it is common for people to have opposing values and yet both sides firmly believe that they are right, and will go to figurative if not literal war over them.  If you are ‘at war’ with someone, could differences in Values be the cause ?

Bearing this in mind, you must not take for granted that people share your values.  You may believe that it is wrong to be late for meetings, for example, but that value is not universally shared.  Hence we have to establish commonality that the team can live with.  Once we realise that something is important to another party, rather than being oblivious to it, we are more inclined to adapt our behaviour to show mutual respect and preserve harmony.  Is there harmony in your team ?


Values are what drive behaviours.
Hence, when we have established a common set of values, it is relatively simple to extract what behaviours we would expect to observe in support of the value.  We can’t see values but we can observe behaviours, hence it is important to go to that next level.  For example, if we say we have a common Value of ‘Being the best we can be’, then I would expect behaviours around keeping continuous professional development up to date, taking time out for reflective learning, having mentoring and coaching in place etc.  By the fact that you are reading this, you are interested in continuous development – is being the best you can be one of your Values ?

The art of facilitation
In terms of facilitation, whether it be for a team or an individual in therapy, it is important to leave the problem and the solution in the space of the client.  As in the NLP pre-supposition, ‘people have all the resources they need to solve their own problems’.  Why are we there as consultants / facilitators ?  Just to draw them out.  (This way we avoid issues of lack of ownership that can result from even sophisticated techniques such as co-construction).  Does your facilitator / manager help you to solve your own problems, or give you their solutions ?

I will not go further into other aspects of facilitation using NLP, but just mention that, in any group, we are likely to have a range of ‘meta-programs’ coming into play – people who see the big picture or delve into detail, the optimists and the pessimists, options v procedures, people v process etc.  (Chapter 2.8 in my book).  A good facilitator quickly recognises where these trends manifest and pulls in counterbalance from the team so that the end result is inclusive and speaks the language of the team rather than a dominant individual or the manager.

Let technology be your friend rather than a barrier
As an added complication, I had to rely heavily on technology support, as on top of about twenty people in the room with me, I had a similar number connected via two video conference streams and a Webex channel to enable them to view my screen.  I use mind mapping software to construct the outputs in real time while drawing out comments from each and every member of the group.  Hence they can see the shape of the outcome as it develops and build or redirect as it unfolds.  (I export to PowerPoint, in MindMap format, immediately after sessions and post out to group members for comment while it is still fresh in their minds).

How to conclude
Usually, management want to see the final output in a report, but to me, active participation in the exercise itself is the charter.  Just make sure you get contribution from every member, especially the quiet ones.  If they haven’t contributed then they don’t own it and won’t be bound by it.

Summing up
What could have been a very fractious and frustrating merger became a team that was greater than the sum of its parts, working to a common goal, and with shared and clear and expectations of behaviour.  A team with every chance of succeeding in its goals.  Was that worth half a day of time investment ?

©Peak Performance August 2011