but my team is special...

At the centre, the heart or the top of the pyramid of nearly all team performance models is the concept of purpose. To varying degrees, they all focus on the question of “why the team exists?”

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.   


Articulating a senior team purpose is not easy and often takes a number of iterations. It should be built on the interdependent work that only the leadership team can perform. Consider the mission critical or must win battles that only this team can achieve. Anything else should be delegated to others in the organisation. How many leadership teams have we seen or been a part of that “suck up” responsibility and in doing so disempower others in the organisation? 

I have seen how a clear, challenging and consequential team purpose can improve overall team performance and interactions. When these are in place, the team agenda is clear and thus focused. Fewer team meetings run over, people are engaged and, more often, complete the prework or preread. There is a stronger commitment to not just being a team of leaders, but rather a leadership team.

With many leaders espousing the importance of ‘team work’ across their organisations, do those some leaders look inwards, reflect, and give dedicated attention to improving their own team’s performance?     

A team coach, as would a one on one coach, works with teams to help them shape and bring to life a compelling team purpose.

Suggested Readings:


Wageman, R., Nunes, D.A., Burruss, J.A. & Hackman J.R. (2008) Senior Leadership teams. What it takes to make them greatHarvard Business Review Press.

Team Diagnostic Survey website: https://www.6teamconditions.com

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