On The Same Page Or All Over The Shop? Getting Clear On Team Purpose

A little exercise I sometimes do with senior teams: I ask each person to write down what they see as the team’s top three priorities – and then we compare notes. It’s a great exercise because (a) it brings people into a reflective space and (b) it shows just how clear (or not) the team is about what it needs to achieve. It’s a road into many interesting conversations: How are we spending our time? Who are we talking to? And what are we talking about?

The team can quickly see whether it is on the same page or all over the shop (or, more likely, somewhere between the two). And the discussion mostly leads the team into a dialogue about team purpose – what are we put on this planet to do? If this team did not exist, what would not get done?*

Few teams spend time agreeing their purpose which means that there are often unspoken assumptions and a lack of cohesion. This expresses itself in a myriad of ways – people not participating, not challenging, not engaged. Decisions not implemented, thing taking longer than they should, resentments building up, alliances being formed. Politics.

Very often it expresses itself in the team working ‘one level down’ – doing the work of the middle management team who, in turn do the work of the front line managers…

Clarity around shared purpose settles the team. And a settled team is not a smug, complacent team; it’s a team that is clear about ‘the ask’ – everybody on the same page about what stakeholders want, need and expect. And clarity about purpose feeds into rigorous, honest discussions about priorities, goals, actions. Creating a vision and an energy that settles and nourishes the rest of the organisation.

*I wish I could say the questions were my own invention – they come from Professor Peter Hawkins.

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