Ruth Wageman and Richard Hackman in their work on teams refer to purpose as being the well specified, compelling direction that is unique to the team. More specifically, a compelling purpose that is a challenging stretch, clear so that everyone can articulate what it would look when the work of the team is accomplished, and consequential so that it has a meaningful impact on the lives or work of others.
Many times, a team will achieve two of the three. I worked with one team who knew that their work was important and should make a difference to the bottom line, however they weren’t exactly sure or aligned on what they should be doing as a team. Such misalignment led to frustration, misaligned priorities and poor team behaviours.
Over the last 15 years I have worked with many senior and executive teams. As part of our initial discussions, each is quick to point out that the context within which they are operating and the mix of internal and external challenges means that their team is special and unique.
However, when I ask the simple question “what is the purpose of your team?”, the response is usually the same. That is to run the company, operate the factory or build the refinery. To this day I am yet to see these leaders and their teams on the front line of production, construction or engaging daily with customers.