6 Steps to Clarify Your Team’s Purpose

It’s guest post Monday! This post is written by Ryan Hartwig who writes at [RE] Framing Collaboration. You can connect with him on Twitter. He is also the author of Burst Bursting the Bubble of 5 Teamwork Myths. If you want a free copy of his book click here. If you would like to be featured as a guest poster on my blog click here.

I’m just beginning to analyze the data collected from 130 church senior leadership teams as part of our Strengthen Your Leadership Team Study.  We’ve got a robust data set to work with, and I’m excited for what we’re going to learn from it.  I’ll share what we’ve learned through this website over the next several months.

Among other indicators of team effectiveness, our assessment (the Team Diagnostic Survey) asked team members to rate the clarify, challenge, and consequentiality of their team’s purpose.

I was fascinated – though not really surprised – to learn that Consequentiality of Team Purpose was the HIGHEST rated indicator in the entire data set but Clarify and Challenge of Team Purpose were the LOWEST rated indicators in the entire data.  In other words, the pastors agreed that their team purposes were extremely consequential, but not very clear or challenging.  Though they believed their team’s work was really important, they didn’t clearly know what it was nor did they believe their purpose was that challenging.

What they indicated is common for many teams, leadership teams or not. We believe that what we are doing – even though it may be largely esoteric and amorphous – is really important.  It is consequential.  But we don’t have a clear sense of what specifically we are doing, nor does it seem to be that challenging to accomplish.

But, great teams possess a clear, challenging, and consequential team purpose. Here are six ways to increase clarity and challenge of purpose (along with questions that can guide discussions among your team members):

1. Identify the core outcomes of your team’s work. What is it, specifically, that our team will be held accountable for?

2. Determine the crucial – meaty, consequential, and challenging –  tasks your team must interdependently tackle.  For senior leadership teams, that usually means things such as establishing vision, determining or modifying strategy, building organizational capability (financial or human resources), and/or managing performance.  What is it that our team, and only our team, can accomplish?

3. Based on those identified outcomes and tasks, engage in robust dialogue to narrow and establish the team’s purpose, different from the organization’s purpose.  For many senior leadership teams, the team purpose is something like “fulfilling the mission and vision of the church.”  But, a good team purpose is distinct from the organization’s, even for the leadership team.  How can we frame our team’s purpose, distinct from the purpose of our larger organization?

4. Give everything else that doesn’t fit that purpose away.  For senior leadership teams, that might mean administrative minutia or coordinating activities.  Give that stuff to other individuals or teams, even new teams that might need to be created.  What are we doing that is outside of our team purpose?

5. Increase assessment of your team’s outcomes, so that team members know whether they have performed effectively or not. How do we know if we’ve accomplished our goals or not?

6. If your team has accomplished its outcomes, celebrate success.  Then, raise the bar for team performance by establishing the next challenge for the team to pursue..  This way, team members are continually challenged and continue to advance the organization’s mission. Don’t rest on your laurels.  How can we continue to improve our work as a team and increase our impact?

Questions: How do you clarify your teams purpose? Can you add any more steps to the list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ryan Ridgway

    What a great post Ryan! It sounds as if the data you collected will greatly influence the future leadership and core focus of your church. You broke it down very simply if I understand correctly; start big with a core focus, and then mead that into something concise and chewable, a direct game-plan where everyone knows their role and responsibility! I also agree that the bar needs to be consistently raised. The 4-minute mile or Felix jumping from 128,000ft from space are true testaments to that and i’m a firm believer that anyone can apply that level to push themselves to excellence. Great post and wishing you the best success and empowerment. Blessings – Ridgway from WeeklyHustle.com

    • Thanks Ryan. A clear, focused purpose is the foundation of success for any team or organization! Thanks for engaging! I wish you all the best as well!

      – Ryan

  • My team is small enough right now that we come together and establish that purpose together. I cast the vision and we kind of define the purpose why everyone is there and the role they play in achieving that vision. Great post, Ryan!

    • That’s awesome… I’m sure your team REALLY appreciates having a seat at the purpose table.

      – Ryan

  • Good post Ryan. I find that vision and creativity are distinct strengths from organization and clarity. We need them all to work together in order to achieve purpose-driven results. Thanks for sharing.

    • That’s good. Thanks for commenting!

      – Ryan

  • Nice post, Ryan. I especially agree with your point about giving everything that doesn’t fit away. We are easily distracted by things that don’t matter or add to end results. Creating concise visions and strategies is priority to success. We need to get rid of the chaff and keep the wheat. This thinning makes projects flow and increases potential success greatly.

    • Yes, keep the wheat and get rid of the chaff. Love it! The trick is to be able to distinguish between the two, which is not always so easy to do!

      – Ryan

      • I agree. Sometimes we get caught up on unneeded details.

  • Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about communication and how lacking it is in many organizations/teams. It seems that so much is “Implied”. I think we can often “assume” everyone is on the same page when they aren’t. I also think many leaders think the team will ask questions if they are uncertain about something…but I’ve come to realize, sometimes the team doesn’t even know they NEED to ask questions. I don’t think I’m making sense. I’ll just say, I’m seeing a great deal of bad communication occurring.

    • Thanks for your engagement.

      Very true … our assumptions cause us many problems. That’s why solid communication — putting the issues on the table, engaging in robust discussion about the team’s assumptions, etc. — has been shown to be one of the most essential factors in team performance.

      – Ryan

  • I like the thorough detail of the goals. While I’m all about goals, I have to be careful not to have them become more than the heart and design of God. I think we need to leave room for God’s changes along the way and His miracle.

    • Great point Floyd! I think a lot of leaders deal with the same thing, I know I do:) Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Yes, that’s a great point. I like to think of goal setting as a cyclical process: Listen to God. Then, as you hear from him, make plans. Then, commit those plans to Him, and listen more to His voice. Repeat, over and over. Thanks for this reminder!

  • Great post Ryan. I like all your points. “raising the bar” (# 6) has struck me the most. so often i linger on ‘victory’ for too long :). I also find that people like to stick with the tried and true, where performance and success is assured. Thanks for this reminder

    • I also really liked point #6! It’s important to celebrate but not allow the celebration to stunt the future. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    • For sure, pat yourself (or your team) on the back, but allow those pats to keep you moving forward! We all have to be reminded about these things constantly … so easy to forget to do what we know we need to do!

  • Great post. One of our processes is to take a detailed personity and strengths test. We also take a “Values” test. This helps everyone know that they are working in the “purpose zone.”

    • Great addition Todd. Knowing and helping our team members know their personal strengths, values, and purpose is so important. It can also unit the team. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

      • Thank you for sharing!

        ——– Original message ——–

  • I particularly like step 5. I think that’s crucial to help us retool in the middle of the process – so that we can strengthen what is working and eliminate what isn’t. Plus, this keeps us learning so that we can apply insights to future projects.

    • I agree. It’s an important step. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  • This is a great post and I would add determine your team members strengths in each area and focusing on that area with each person. Because each person has different strengths we should start and focus there. Great post.

    • You mentioned a very important point. Its so important to find each team members strengths and have them working in those areas. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Great Article!