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Getting Clear on Team Purpose

Ever had the uncomfortable feeling that, while you and your team are working hard, something isn’t quite right?  There’s lots of activity but you get the sense that you aren’t all pulling in the same direction.  One cause for this can be a team not being as clear on its purpose as it could be.

Unless thought has been given to what individuals or teams are there to achieve as an outcome (not the same as what they are there to ‘do’ ) a lot of time and energy can be wasted either doing things that are duplicating what someone else is (or should be) doing, or things take much longer than they need to.  As a result what is delivered can often be unnecessarily complicated / over-engineered or just plain wrong as a means to deliver the intended outcome/purpose of the team or individual.

Once a team or individual leader is clear on what they are looking to deliver as an outcome, this provides more clarity about where they should really be spending their time. As a result time can be spent on the important things rather than some of the trivia that steals time from us when we are not that clear on what we are trying to achieve.

I ran a workshop this week with a group of leaders as part of one of our leadership programmes.  Part of the session took them through our process to define their Team Purpose.  Going through this exercise reconfirmed for me the importance and value of the conversations that take place when a team works together to get clear on its purpose.

Our process got the team to look at their purpose from a number of different perspectives:

  • Whether they are a management team (leading other teams) or a process team (responsible for delivering value to the organisation as a result of working together).
  • What their role is with respect to the organisation’s vision, mission and purpose – to check in to what the broader organisation is looking for from the team.
  • What the team’s various stakeholders (internal and external to the organisation) want from the team, and what that means for the purpose of the team.
  • How the team integrates with other teams – where there could be overlaps or conflicting interests that could be causing duplication of effort or confusion.

In the workshop, after the leaders had been through the process, they commented on a number of benefits they noticed:

  • Highlighting potential overlaps in responsibility with other teams – identifying conversations to hold to clarify respective roles.
  • Helping them clear on ‘why’ they are there as a team, as opposed to what they ‘do’ as a team.
  • (For a project team) identifying other projects that have been done that could be used as learning or to short-circuit some of their work.
  • Allowing the opportunity for team members to share different views and to ask questions in a safe environment, and as a result, to make it more likely that the team will be aligned.
  • Giving them a sense of how getting clear on their purpose will help identify how they should be spending their time and ensuring they are paying attention to the right things.

So, if you are now feeling that there may be a lack of clarity in the team about its purpose (or even that it might be worth revisiting the purpose anyway), how about taking some time out with them to work through questions like those above that get them to consider their purpose from different perspectives.  The process should give you and the team the opportunity to share your respective thoughts and build a collective view – which should help build energy and alignment and remove that discomfort.


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