4 Elements of a Compelling Team Purpose


I’ve talked a lot about the importance of developing a shared purpose for any team.  A good shared purpose energizes and binds the team together, defining its reason for being.  I believe there are four key elements to a team’s shared purpose and I will illustrate them with a real example below.

This team brought together software support functions from various parts of a company.  In the world of software development, the support role is usually considered a second class role, beneath the developers who prefer to invest their time creating new functionality.  This leads to support being viewed as an unexciting function, often with low morale and mediocre performance.

#1:  Take care of the customer’s cares

The first key element involves understanding what is important to the customer of the team.  I define the customer as the person who declares satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the outcome generated by the team.  This customer recognized the support role was ultimately not value added because its primary purpose was to fix defects.  It is much better to not have defects in the first place and eliminate the support role altogether.  To this end, the customer requested the team to reduce their cost by 10% year over year.

#2:  Take care of what the team members care about

Most teams focus on the customer’s care but fail to talk about what is important to the team members.  Our motivation flows from our cares and by ignoring them, the best you will achieve is compliance, and that wanes over time.  In this example, team members wanted to keep their job and a 10% cost reduction was viewed as a threat.  We also learned some people wanted to move into a development role although most enjoyed their support roles and were very good at them.

This gave us an idea.  If we could reduce the workload in the group, we could move some people out of the group into developer roles and by doing so achieve the 10% cost reduction.  We knew team members already worked long hours and couldn’t take on extra work from a reduction in staff so we had to figure out how to reduce the amount of work by at least 10%.  We learned if we cut the number of defects in the system, the amount of work would drop accordingly.

#3:  Make the goal simple and meaningful

Continuing the example, a simple meaningful goal was born.  Cut the number of defects to reduce the work and reduce spending by providing new career paths in development functions.  Once the team understood how the goal helped them as well as the company, it generated momentum for change.  Everyone focused on reducing or eliminating defects in the system.

#4:  Make it measurable

The fourth part of a compelling purpose is making it measurable.  In the example, the goal was simple and easy to measure – reduce the volume of defects.  We made sure everyone had access to defect information and used it to see who was making progress that others could learn from.

In the space of two years, this team reduced the total defects by 50% and easily achieved the cost reduction targets.  Employee morale also rose to one of the highest levels in the company.

Is the purpose of your team simple, measurable and does it take care of your customer and team members needs?

Comments (2)

Nice one Andy. I get the four elements and its a great example. So what was the purpose of this team?

Great question Dave. You are right, I didn’t share it. I describe it as delivering high quality supply chain application services in an increasingly efficient way while providing team members with a great place to work.

I also think you are touching on something very important. How much detail is required to be included in a team’s purpose. I think there has to be enough for the key stakeholders to know their cares are being addressed. What’s your view?

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