Research abounds to illustrate how having a clear purpose, and especially a higher purpose that connects to meaningful ideals, can help teams align around a direction, work with high engagement and focus, and produce results that exceed expectations. But as a leader, you may not even need the research to tell you how important purpose is, because you can see it in your own teams, and in your own focus.
When purpose is clear and meaningful, we work with direction and enthusiasm that produces exceptional results.
That’s why Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University says establishing purpose is the best starting point for building teams – especially teams that cross boundaries. If you’re working on a virtual team that stretches across the country or around the world, or if you’re working across job roles, organizational divisions, or even ideological divisions, creating a clear and compelling purpose is the first step to finding the resolve to move forward.
Edmondson explains in this short video. She also points toward what to do after you’ve established purpose to keep your diverse, boundary-spanning team on track and learning from one another. Watch this video, then use the questions found below the video to reflect on your own experiences, or start a conversation within your team.
Discussion Questions: Starting with Purpose
- Think about a team you are on that spans boundaries – geographic, role, ideological, etc. – how would you define the purpose of that team’s work or primary project?
a. Would the others on the team describe the purpose in the same way?
b. Are you clear on the higher purpose? For example, an airplane manufacturer’s higher purpose isn’t to sell more planes; it might be to help people safely connect with their distant loved ones.
- Edmondson also says that when working across boundaries, we must make differences discussable and valuable. This creates psychological safety. How does this happen at your organization? Think of a time when differences were acknowledged, respected, and considered. Tell the story.
a. From this story, and from the stories of your teammates, identify 3-5 contributing factors for creating a team where differences are discussable and valuable.
- Giving permission to get it wrong is another factor in developing strong teams. How does your team handle mistakes? Think of the last time you made an error – was it easy or hard to be open about the mistake? How was the situation received by others?
a. What would it look like to have a team where mistakes are acknowledged without blame or shame?
More Resources on Identifying Your Purpose
Ready to learn more about the role of purpose in guiding organizations and building strong teams? We recommend this article on Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson, who helped the convenience store giant become a center of community wellbeing. Simon Sinek’s much watched video on “starting with why” can also inform your thinking, as this article illustrates.
Explore your own leadership purpose through our Ph.D./D.B.A. Program in Values-Driven Leadership, for senior executives, or through our online Master of Science in Values-Driven Leadership.
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