2 Reasons Why Having a Team Purpose is Not Enough

Much has been said and written about purpose-driven teams and organizations.

In this article from HBR, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback Write: "A clear and compelling purpose is the glue that binds together a group of individuals. It is the foundation on which the collective “we” of a real team is built."

Defining a clear purpose, seen through the lens of business anthropologists, brings teams together and shifts their mindsets from an individual to a collective perspective. Team and organization purpose statements serve as a powerful symbol that drives team performance, increases motivation, and overall outcomes.

Reason # 1: The Team Purpose must align with Individual and Organizational Purpose too.

Ongoing research by McKinsey discusses and explores the importance of guiding employees in seeing how their team purpose aligns with both the bigger organization's purpose and their individual purpose.

For example, a finance team of an organization reviews and creates their team purpose. Let's say their defined purpose statement is "We exist to optimize and care for the company's resources so that our people will live better lives, and our customers will get the best possible products."

What the team needs to do next is to assess how their purpose statement aligns with the purpose and vision of their organization. Some key questions to ask might be:

  1. How does our team purpose statement help the organization live out its purpose?

  2. If we live out our purpose every day, what impact are we creating for the organization?

Once the team checks this alignment, the next thing they would need to do is to check if the individual purpose of each member is aligned with the team purpose. Some reflections that leaders can guide their members around would be:

  1. How will working with the team help you activate your own purpose?

  2. In what ways are your personal purpose aligned with the team's? organization's?

Reason # 2: A clear purpose must be supported by intentionally designed team norms and actions

A team's purpose must be activated and lived out by each member in their day-to-day activities. Because of this, it is critical for teams to create agreements around key areas that will create the proper conditions for each member of the team to perform.

These core areas revolve around the following:

  1. Identity - the values the team holds dear and the reputation the team wants to build as they interact with their stakeholders.

  2. Roles - the formal and informal roles that each member brings to the team and the role that the team plays in relation to the bigger organizational purpose.

  3. Goals - the milestones that the team needs to hit within a specific timeframe.

  4. Communication - how the team makes decisions, agreements on forms and ways of sharing information, handling conflict.

  5. Interactions - the rituals, rules and traditions that would guide the team interactions.

Gaining clarity on these areas allows teams to effectively create their most ideal conditions that allow them to live out their purpose. Some of the benefits of making these core areas visible and observable are an increase in accountability, engagement, and overall performance.

It is for these two reasons that creating a purpose does not automatically guarantee an engaged and high-performing team.

Creating a team purpose statement and aligning it with the personal and organizational purpose shifts the minds and hearts of the members from "Me" to "We". Intentionally designing the other core areas empowers the team to live out and turn the "We" into action.

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