8 Signals of Low Product Team Purpose | No Engagement Surveys Needed

Managers: Address these gaps to nurture purpose.

Todd Lankford
Lean Leverage
Published in
6 min readJan 22, 2024

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A team with purpose in a bright office setting
Purpose needs the right conditions to thrive | Image by DALL-E

A team’s engagement level will make or break it, yet many managers struggle to gain a pulse on it.

The majority latch onto a yearly engagement survey to do so. These surveys are too infrequent to matter and rarely make a dent in improving team morale. They become yet another measurement in a sea of imposed metrics. And these surveys are often the only touchpoint a manager has with the teams.

So, an engagement survey can easily become an ironic, neon sign of low engagement.

I’ve found something much better.

Let me start by explaining how I assess team engagement.

I take cues from Daniel Pink to define a team’s engagement — by its level of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In my experience, of the three, purpose is the strongest driver of intrinsic motivation. Even so, purpose is highly tied to the other two aspects of engagement — autonomy and mastery. Ensuring these are high will drive purpose.

And after working with 156 teams in my career, I know well the signs of the conditions that erode team purpose.

You too, as a manager, can learn to spot these signals, so let’s review the 8 most common ones I look for, no survey required.

This year, I’ve committed my focus to a concept called Lean Leverage, as described in my inaugural 2024 post. Each article I craft this year, including this one, will focus on an aspect of Lean Leverage. Enjoy and stay tuned for many ways to do more with less.

Signal 1: Tasks, not customers

Tasks don’t motivate when severed from the customer need.

When a team does not know its customer and only has a list of tasks to complete, purpose becomes muddy. “I finished my task list today,” does not build purpose. “I made my customer’s life better today,” does.

You know tasks are the focus when teams are:

  • Working in a silo on a small, disconnected piece of a user solution (components, layers, activities).
  • Isolated from direct interaction with…

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Todd Lankford
Lean Leverage

Hi–I’m Todd. I help managers and product teams maximize outcomes while respecting people. https://www.coachlankford.com