How To Give Your Team Purpose by Mark Wager
Image courtesy of Boykung at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
How To Give Your Team Purpose
By Mark Wager
We all need a purpose, something which clearly defines our existence, the reason why our heart beats faster than normal, the reason why we feel hours pass like minutes, the reason why we say no when our inner voice tells us to quit. We have a fundamental human need to find our purpose and we will feel unfulfilled until we find it. Teams are no different. They will never reach their full potential until they discover their purpose.
The question is how do you discover your team’s purpose. You may be thinking that it is an easy question to answer “We make XYZ product” “We make money” but those are both outcomes rather than a purpose. It’s not a goal either so it’s not “the be the best team in the company” goals are fine, in fact an essential part of a team but are not the same as a purpose. The purpose of your team is the fundamental reason why you co-exist together. Why are you a team rather than a collection of individuals? This article will look at finding that purpose in order to improve the efficiency within your team. For an in-depth look at finding the “why” at an organisational level check out Simon Sinek’s work in his book "Start With Why."
Often considered only something to be done at an organisational level defining a purpose at the team level allows everyone to examine the status quo and to challenge all the assumptions that we have about how a team should co-exist. This allows robust non-judgmental rebuilding of the team into a team that fulfils the needs of the business as well as the individuals involved. Even if the team dynamics are not looking that different from before you started you will be amazed with the improved communication and increased understanding that the team shares of their roles within the team and how their work and behaviours impact their colleagues.
Step One: Explain the benefits
It can often happen especially in large organisations that the overall vision gets lost in translation either due to the message being lost in a sea of jargon or that the vision is too disjointed from the work that the team does that there is no obvious connection between the vision and daily tasks. A team's purpose reinforces that overall objective by clearly creating a connection between the work they do, why they need each other and the overall objective. The key is to clearly state the benefits to your team so that it doesn’t sound like you are trying to implement the latest leadership fad. The benefits are clear establishing a team purpose will provide a focus to improve communication, understanding and collegial support. All of which are essential elements of every successful team.
Step Two: The why
Ensure your team has had time to talk about this before gathering together. Why do we exist together as a team rather than just work separately as individuals within the same organisation and why this organisation as opposed to others. Most exercises will come up with a purpose along the lines of achieving something together that they couldn’t do as individuals. Just think of the Avengers movie and you are half way there.
Step Three: The how
Once your purpose is in place the work doesn’t stop there. Now it’s time to challenge your assumption of how you work together by asking your team how they make their purpose happen. Just a tip, try to discuss this through a lens of team interaction rather than individual tasks so items often raised are “providing accurate and constructive feedback” and “keeping people informed of decisions that impact their job” also try to stay away from specific behaviours as you want to leave them for the next step.
Step Four: The what
This is the stage where ambition meets reality the “what” is where you look at the specific behaviours that make the “how” happens. An interesting technique to get to this stage is to create a grid with a list of “hows” written down one axis and the list of team members down the other axis. Then ask the team members to look at each box formed by the grid and make a note of the specific behaviours that enable the “how” to occur with each team mate. For example if one of the how’s is “providing accurate and constructive feedback” then along that axis fill out the behaviours that currently exist to enable that to happen with each team member. There will be some duplication but there will also be some gaps, when the gaps appear direct people back to the “how” line and think of ways that it could happen.
It’s during this step that defences might get raised and history is used as a deflecting tactic “We also did it this way etc” Ensure people have the belief and empowerment in order to achieve the ideal team state.
Step Five: The When
The final stage is when. During this stage you need to define where the team is at now, the current reality then the specific steps to get to the ideal future state that was clearly defined during the "what" stage. The plan to make this happen needs to have timeframes for completion, clearly marked milestones and people identified to be responsible for each task.
This is not an easy process and you will need a level of buy-in from your team before even starting but if you go down this track then you and your team will reap rewards far greater than you could imagine.
About the author
Mark Wager is an international author and Leadership Coach. Mark specialises in helping organisations develop a successful, sustainable culture that enables people to perform at their best. Contact Mark if you are serious about developing your people and teams.
Posted: Monday 3 November 2014