Professional Team Engagement Model Part 3: Does Your Team Have a Purpose?

All too often I meet managers and team leaders that are loathe to commit to a conversation around Purpose because it feels too big. Too lofty. Too out there. At some point during our exchange, they usually sigh and express how busy they are and how stressed everyone on the team is because of all the things they have to do. They surmise there just really isn’t enough time to talk about ‘stuff’ like that.

And so I ask them this. What if you did just one thing at your job today? Just. One. Thing. What would it be?

Impossible, they say. I agree…. but press on. What is it? What is that one thing that matters most in the work that you do? Inevitably they say “Well, do you mean what I want to do, what I should do or what I have to do?” You pick, I say.

And after some thought, the shoulders loosen, the gaze fixes and the body leans in… because they always have an answer. And most often, it sounds like Purpose.

So What is Purpose?

As a core concept of our Professional Team Engagement Model, Purpose is about creating a collective definition of our existence as a team. When teams create clarity and alignment around their ‘why’, they are then able to create parameters for working and being together. This process can also help to highlight a disparity between an individual’s purpose and that of their team.

So, with strengths in mind, think of your own team and ask yourself these questions:

  • Why is this a team?
  • What do we do together?
  • How do we act when we are together?
  • Are we headed in the same direction and do we share the same goals?
  • Do any gaps exist between personal and collective purpose?

We have found that when teams experience misalignment in this area, more specifically, when they do not endeavor to create and continually calibrate their common purpose, the following issues may arise:

Shifting Commitment – Having unclear expectations around commitment results in varying levels of engagement, misplaced advocacy, or amplified self-interest.

Change Aversion – A lack of alignment amongst team members breeds doubt, cynicism, and exposes the resistance to change.

Weak Communication – An ineffective, inefficient or inconsistent team communication model adversely affects interactions and outcomes. (Ex: overly casual, reactive, stringent or sporadic).

Limited Traction – Teams that are bogged down by the same unresolved issues and recurring topics, make poor decisions and can succumb to analysis paralysis.

Purpose in Action

Last year, we were called in to work with a professional team that was struggling to make decisions and move forward. Neither the Team Leader, nor the Supervisor could put a finger on it. They were a small group, very passionate about their roles and to most, would appear to have no issues. Assumptions were made that because they shared job objectives, experience and training, they would all approach these roles the same way and thus, gel as a team. After all, decisions and change should be easier for a small, nimble group of like-minded professionals. Right?

This could not have been further from the truth. In actual fact, when we started working with them, it became evident that they were just one thread pull away from completely unraveling.

We decided to pull it for them.

We did this so that together, they could begin re-creating their team.

A team with Purpose.

Ask these questions to become a Team

What revealed itself early, was that this was not actually a team at all. This was simply a group of people who met once a week. While they were cordial during meetings, they operated under a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that provided professional insulation from one another. Essentially, they were independent contractors who prioritized serving their clients ahead of serving their own team. And they each had a unique constellation of conviction, philosophy, belief and strength that sheltered their perspective from the rest.

Over a series of meetings, we helped these professionals become a team. Together, they wrestled with these questions:

  • Why do we exist as a team?
  • What values matter to us?
  • What do we do when we are together?
  • How do we succeed?
  • What are the anchors of our strategy?
  • How do we hold each other accountable for our Purpose?

The team worked through the questions one at a time and had each member put their responses on a post-it note. We then shared these aloud, teased out common language, drew comparisons, noted similarities and debated differences.

Ultimately, each question resulted in a statement that reflected their collective Purpose. At times, they bumped up against each other, faced their own limitations and acknowledged their professional insecurities. And it was exactly during these times of struggle, that the individual strands were woven tightly to become the fabric of a new and true team. When the questions became their own, then so too did the answers.

Your Team

Do any of these issues resonate with you? Would you say that your team has alignment around Purpose, or do you have some work to do? How do you think Strengths can help begin to address your specific team concerns in this area?