Which Comes First – Purpose Or Values?

I saw a cartoon recently that made me laugh out loud. It was a drawing of a chicken and an egg lying in bed, happy, relaxed, smoking. The caption? “Well, that clears that up!”.

Working in organisations, I come across a lot of talk about values: senior management are working them out and communicating them, they’re displayed on walls, they’re included in the website and they form the email signature. And this is a good thing; working out values can lead to deeply meaningful and heartfelt conversations about what matters for a team or business.

But which comes first, values or purpose? Often, I meet teams with clear values but they don’t have a clear purpose which means that at least some of their time and energy will be spent doing the wrong things in the right way.

Having a clear team purpose provides a strong focus, releases energy, facilitates precise conversations and, in this way, translates into powerful action. In order to clarify purpose, Peter Hawkins, who created the systemic team coaching model, suggests that teams ask themselves “what are we put on this planet to do?” and/or “if we didn’t exist, what would not get done”? Engaging with these questions focuses team attention right into the heart of their purpose – and their priorities.

And when a team’s purpose is clear and agreed, the values discussion takes on real meaning and allows the values to be lived and absorbed into the culture.

Clear purpose and values that are more than words on a wall? Well, that’s got to be enjoyable for everyone ?

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