Strategic Alignment

Do ALL Your Team Understand Your Team’s Purpose?

4 out of 10 team members state that they do not have an understanding of what their team exists to do. (2014-22 Big Data from Team DyNAmics)

I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that the above is a worrying statistic. Potentially, 40% of your team may not understand what your team exists to do!

The Importance Of Team Purpose

In a survey by Harvard Business Review, 98% of workers said that having meaning in their working lives was an important factor. They wanted to understand how what they did in their role, helped their team to achieve its goals.

Stephen Covey mentions in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Simon Sinek says “Start With Why”, and whilst I support his message, personally, I think it should be “Start With What”, because that is the first question that people you meet ask you in a business setting, “Tell me, what does your team do?”

The “why do you do it”, whilst important comes later, and I will explain this in due course.

Of the 16 Elements Of Teamwork measured in the Team DyNAmics Model, your Team’s Purpose is the most important to get right, as it provides the foundation for everything else you do when working as a team. Purpose is your North Star. Discussions at Team Meetings should center around your Purpose, Decision-Making should focus on it. Commitment in your team is driven by it, to name just a few.

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The Bean Counters

In one of my first leadership roles, I was asked to lead an already-established finance team. I had been made aware that they had a low esteem of what they did and that perception was mirrored in the other parts of the business they had working relationships with. They were known as the ‘bean counters’, which had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At the first meeting I had with my team, I asked each of them, individually, to write down, “What does this team exist to do?” They then, one by one, shared what they had written with the rest of the team.

Their responses were varied, which was a worry in itself, but at the core of what they thought the team existed to do, was “To produce monthly accounts that are as accurate as possible as quickly after month-end.”

I’m sure that you would agree, that this is pretty boring and certainly didn’t instill a sense of pride in what the team did, nor indeed motivate and inspire individuals to play their part in achieving it, to the best of their ability.

No wonder they felt bad about themselves and other parts of the business did not value what they did. So, I set about facilitating a session, that would result in a Team Purpose Statement that made them feel positive about the work they did and the value that it added to other parts of the business.

The 3 Elements Of A Team Purpose Statement

For the next couple of hours, I challenged them and their perception as to what their team existed to do. I did this by getting them to focus on agreeing on three fundamental elements that together, would make a clear, motivational, and compelling Team Purpose, that they would have collectively created, agreed, and therefore buy into.

The three elements that I asked them to develop were as follows:

1.  What does our team exist to do? What is it that we really do and deliver?

2.  What does this enable? What value-add does this really achieve?

3.  What benefits does this deliver? How do others really benefit from what you do?

Eventually, after many ideas and much discussion, the team came up with a Team Purpose Statement.

This is what they came up with:

(DO) The Finance Team exists to ensure the timely delivery of value-adding financial data and information to our global business units, (ENABLE) which enables them to make informed investment decisions, (BENEFITS) that deliver tangible benefits to our customers, staff and organisation.

The benefits above are the why mentioned by Simon Sinek.

Be Realistic

It is important that a Team Purpose Statement can be justified and specific. It is no good using phrases such as “the best”, “the most creative”, “a world leader”, unless these words can be backed up with evidence that your team is that.

What Action To Take

Do you have an inspirational, value-adding Team Purpose Statement, that everyone is bought into and understands? It doesn’t matter whether you are a leadership team, an operational team, or a project team, this is the most important thing that you need to establish and agree on if you want to achieve high-performance teamwork. Here’s a suggestion about what to do.

  1. Check out the understanding of your Team Purpose, by getting team members, to individually write down and then share, what they think your team exists to do. This will give you a good idea as to whether there is consensus and similarity or whether there is disagreement and difference.
  2. If the latter, agree on a time to define your Team Purpose Statement. One hour should be a good starter.
  3. Ensure as many of your team are involved in creating it, to ensure buy-in and commitment.
  4. Make sure it includes the three elements, DO, ENABLE, and BENEFITS.
  5. Keep it simple; no jargon or acronyms.
  6. Get agreement from team members as to the final version.
  7. Check it out with some people who don’t know your team, to see if they understand it.
  8. Once created, ensure that you diarise to review it at least once a quarter, to ensure it is still relevant and valid and that everyone in your team understands it, especially those who may have joined the team in the interim.

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