Find Your Team’s Purpose

Vision… Mission… Charter… Creed. Wait, what’s the difference between these?!

Regardless of what you call it, as a leader*, articulating a clear reason for why your team exists is a critical part of setting direction, prioritizing work, and most importantly, inspiring your team, your users, and your company. For simplicity, I prefer to call this process identifying your team’s purpose.

Your purpose statement can be short or long term, as long as it’s revisited once a year and either re-confirmed or re-imagined (#futurepost).

*If you’re not a manager, keep reading. Helping craft your team’s purpose is a great opportunity to expand your leadership skills — a clear purpose that comes from within the team is very powerful.

Ok, so you know it’s important to have a purpose statement…
but how do you start?

To get you started, here’s a simple, 3 step process I used to help my own team find our purpose: Reflect. Compose. Share.

  1. Reflect | Writing a purpose statement is a thoughtful process. To give people time to organize their thoughts, start with independent reflection; one way I did this was to create a Google Form and have each team member spend 10 minutes answering the following open-ended questions. I chunked the questions into 3 buckets: you, our team, our team + our company:
· What excited you most about taking your job here?
· What gets you out of bed everyday to come to work?
· What impact do you personally want to have on our company?
· What do you want our team to be doing that we aren’t?
· Describe what our team does that no other team at the company does/can do?
· What do we want to be known for?
· What’s one thing you wish everyone at the company knew about our team?
· What would an ideal partnership look like with our clients?
· What are some ways that we can educate the company about how to partner with and leverage our team more effectively than they are today?

The team had 3 days to complete the survey. My original plan had been to summarize and share high level themes with the team. But, when I started reading through the responses, the verbatim comments were so great, I realized I had to share the raw backend responses directly with the team (via Google Form Summary).

I have to tell you, even if you stop here, it’s worth the 10 minute spend per person. I was so inspired reading what my teammates wrote. While we may have used different language to articulate what brought us here or how we want to impact the company, the answers completely reinforced why I love being part of my team, and reminded me of what my teammates are passionate about, inspired by, and hope to accomplish in our time @Twitter.

For us, we shared a clear desire to create a place where people can learn and grow… something beyond pumping out “training programs”… it’s about building the skills that would not only help Twitter succeed, but also shape great people in the process…

This was our starting point.

When do you do this exercise with your team, ask yourself, “what leaps off the page?”

2. Compose | The survey provided a TON of great data to work with. Almost too much, actually, so the Compose step became the hardest for us. In order to bring it all together, we blocked out a 90 minute workshop with the intention of drafting our purpose statement. (Pro-Tip: consider using a virtual conference system like BlueJeans or Adobe Connect if you have team members in different locations.)

During this workshop, the goal is to create a first draft. It’s important not to get caught up in wordsmithing quite yet — just aim to capture the essence of why the team exists.

Though each of us had reviewed the full survey responses individually in advance of the workshop, we started our session by calling out what we loved that others had written. This part was awesome. We started whiteboarding out big ideas, but that didn’t quite work with two team members sitting in Dublin. We quickly shifted to a Google Doc and took 10 minutes of quiet time for each of us to write out sentence fragments we liked based on what we had read.

Here’s what our shared doc looked like:

Learning + Org Development in draft mode composing our purpose statement

As you can see, it started with a brain dump of all of our individual ideas, then we spent time as a team stitching together words and phrases that resonated, and playing with the order of the words.

We really wanted our purpose to be both inspirational AND aspirational (and perhaps a tad provocative!).

3. Share | Getting from the brain dump of great ideas down to our final words was HARD. My team went back and forth in our Compose Workshop, and the exercise trickled into several of our subsequent weekly team meetings, each of us voicing why we liked and didn’t like certain words. This part of the process was about getting more and more comfortable with the direction our purpose was starting to take.

After a week, we pulled the trigger and called it final in order to focus on other priorities.

I tweeted it to make it official:

Learning + Org Development Purpose:
Setting Twitter up for success. Setting tweeps up for life.
Designing opportunities to grow + learn everyday.
here [at Twitter].
& in the world.

While it took the team awhile to compose our purpose (and me awhile to fully own it), I’m inspired by what we came up with and am excited that we have a place to anchor future work.

We’re in the process of using this purpose statement to help clarify the work we take on as a team, and which projects we don’t. It’s something we’re also sharing across the organization to help other teams compose their purpose statements.

What’s your team’s purpose? The new year is a great time to get clear on your purpose.

Let’s learn together. Tweet me @nikilustig with #teampurpose

PS: While writing this article, I was approached by Delivering Happiness to be the first feature in their “Culture Champion” podcast series. Check out the Delivering Happiness podcast and follow-up article, Can Higher Purpose Help Your Team Survive and Thrive?! via the Greater Good Science Center.

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