October 23, 2019

The foundations of great teamwork: Purpose

Teams need a purpose. In fact, it’s the very definition of a team.

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose” Katzenberg

When you take a step back, our purpose as an individual is what gets us out of bed on a morning and our purpose as a team or an organisation is what gets us dressed and into work — how meaningful that purpose is to us determines whether we do that with a skip in our step and a smile on our face or a slouch and a frown!

According to YSC, too often teams jump into tasks without taking the time to think about their reason for being and contribution to the broader organisation and the risk here is that the less clearly the team’s purpose is defined the greater the risk is of the team wasting energy — and that’s the last thing we want to do!

What is purpose?

Purpose should be something that resonates as ‘right and worthwhile’ for each of us, for the team and for the company.

Teams need to understand the true reason they’re doing what they’re doing and have clear goals to guide their progress. Without this it’s difficult to steer a group of people in the same direction.

The first thing people (customers and potential candidates alike) want to know about a business is it’s purpose, it helps them understand why the company exists and form an opinion about it. It’s what you stand for as a business and therefore has a huge impact on the bottom line.

According to Gallup, CVS decided to discontinue the sale of tobacco products at its U.S. retail locations and leave billions of dollars in revenue on the table. At the time, the company’s CEO said, “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” which the pharmacy describes as helping people on their path to better health. This is a great example of how purpose can and should drive strategy and decision making at an organisational level.

Team purpose

At a team level purpose is just as important, once a purpose is defined a team’s working styles and processes can flow from there.

However this isn’t a case of a simple mission statement “help users save time and money.” The purpose needs to be meaningful to the people who work for you. And to create something meaningful we need to look again at values. What motivates your team? Why do they come to work every day? For some people this will be ambition and success, others because they’re striving for the financial freedom that allows them to have fun outside of work. If you can create a team with aligned values and a purpose that reflects these values, you’ve taken a turning onto the road to success.

Where having a clear purpose can help

Prioritisation

When teams know what they’re working towards it makes prioritisation easier. The simple question when a team comes to a crossroad is — what route is the most closely aligned to our purpose?

Working as a collective

Having agreed on a common purpose means individuals are comfortable that their teammates are working with them, not in competition. This helps the team to maximise each other’s potential resulting in better working relationships.

Motivation

A purpose can help fuel motivation by focussing individuals beyond their own short term commercial success. A really effective way to demonstrate the impact of the team’s mission is to show how it affects the lives of customers (or stakeholders) they’re serving.

Building a network across the wider business

Being able to easily articulate your team’s purpose to others across the business not only gives other teams visibility of what you’re working on, but helps them understand why you might need their help. Being able to see the bigger picture offers the opportunity for others to contribute ideas or expertise and see connections between your purpose to their own.

So take some time to consider your team’s purpose. We found through our research that most teams feel that they have a clearly defined purpose, yet when asked to explain what that purpose was we got a medley of different answers. To help teams define and articulate their purpose we’ve created a purpose toolkit within Saberr Coach, in summary, our top tips are:

  • Don’t try to do too much: “Basically, the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.”
  • Be clear on what you can influence: build direct and visible connections between your goals and the tasks individuals in the team carry out. So team members can see on an ongoing basis how their work is moving the team towards its goals.
  • Measure progress: A great way to motivate the team, make this visible to the team and wider organisation.

Want to define your team’s purpose? Try our quick purpose setting exercise here.

Need some extra help? Check out CoachBot, Saberr’s digital team coach.

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