Creating Purpose-Driven Teams
Developing a clear purpose can create a more cohesive and higher performing team by moving everyone toward a common goal. Purpose is “the reason for which something exists,” “an intended or desired result,” or “an aim, intention, or goal.”1
In my experience, teams that develop their own purpose within an organization set themselves apart from those that just go through the motions. Developing a clear team purpose is a method of increasing motivation and enhancing performance in the workplace. For this effort to be successful, the team purpose statement must fall under the umbrella of the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values.
One Team’s Journey
In 2019, I supervised a team of four officers. Each member had unique and well-rounded experiences. While the team had been together for a year, it was still forming an identity.
The team’s mission was broad. Members were pulled in multiple directions, working hard to meet competing needs from the administration, other work groups, and the community. I started to notice decreased motivation after our first year together, with officers seemingly going through the motions and not making a significant effort to engage in projects. When speaking with the individuals, it sounded like they were uncertain of their purpose due to the competing roles.
Wanting to focus on the group’s overall performance, I decided to implement a transformational team vision. Uncertain how to best achieve this goal, I used a new strategy — have the team develop its own purpose.
I set up a meeting at an off-site, neutral space, away from the comfort of the team’s usual office. I left the officers alone to work on their purpose project, to find their “why.”
The team had several ground rules to follow.
- Create an agreed-upon team purpose — the reason for existence and method of fulfilling it.
- Recognize that there is no seniority or hierarchy; everyone has equal input.
- Take the entire day if needed; this is the team’s time to be creative.
- Ensure the team purpose supports the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
- Present a final draft of the purpose statement.
When I left the meeting, I did not know what to expect.
About five hours later, the team returned to the office. I received a sheet of paper with the team’s finalized purpose statement. Handwritten, neat, and well-organized, the statement supported our organization’s mission, vision, and values. It was clear that the members took this assignment seriously. The main difference was that the purpose statement was written in the team’s own words.
I posted it on our weekly planning whiteboard — front and center of the office. Anyone entering our space would see the team’s purpose statement, and, most important, each member would see it daily.
Throughout the year, team members would often refer to the purpose statement to guide their decision-making and planning. They took ownership of the statement and held each other accountable for it. I observed a positive shift in performance, attitude, and motivation that I can link to a shared team purpose.
I was proud of the work that the team put into this project. The results — a high-performing, motivated, and cohesive team — positively affected the members, organization, and community.
Other benefits of using the purpose strategy were that team members became more optimistic and goal-oriented and built respected reputations within the organization. Members consistently pushed each other to improve. It worked like a road map to enhance individual and team success.
The purpose strategy worked for this team, during this time, within this organization. There is no guarantee that this method will work for all teams due to different factors or circumstances. I do believe that teams taking ownership over their own purpose will eventually become more productive in the workplace. A purpose statement must also be supported by leadership and referred to often. Otherwise, the team risks moving backward to a period of lower performance and motivation.
This simple strategy may be just what your team needs to boost its morale and performance.
Deputy Chief Ryan Rutledge of the Renton, Washington, Police Department, a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 283, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at RRutledge@Rentonwa.gov.
1 Dictionary.com, s.v. “purpose,” accessed March 14, 2023, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/purpose.
“[T]he team purpose statement must fall under the umbrella of the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values.”