An exercise to define and craft your team purpose statement

Purpose is the source of meaning and motivation that drives people to do their best work. Research shows that 76% of employees crave a sense of purpose. Team members want to be part of something larger and more important than themselves. Having a shared purpose is not only for organizations; a team purpose gives people a more profound sense of connection and meaning.

Subcultures play a crucial role, as I wrote here. The sense of belonging to a team drives higher engagement, even within the same organization. Improving team culture can drive faster results than fixing the overall culture.  

Here’s how to get you started by designing a powerful team purpose.

Why purpose matters

A purpose is the north star; it guides people’s behavior, especially during stormy weather. The purpose is the reason why people want to work together, collaborate, and achieve a shared goal. It’s the single underlying raison d’etre that brings all stakeholders together. While core values are guardrails for how people make decisions and behave, the purpose defines the why.

Teams are often busy delivering their work with little idea of why they’re doing it – having a clear purpose increases motivation and engagement.

IAG’s purpose is “To help people manage risk and recover from the hardship of unexpected loss.”

Airbnb’s purpose is “To create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”

Most companies have realized the importance of having a purpose that defines why they’re in business. However, many miss that having a team purpose is critical, too. It connects team members with a sense of meaning, and they can better understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Once again, people feel more connected to the culture of their specific teams, than with the broader company culture. Designing a team purpose leverages the power of subcultures.

What is a team purpose?

Three key elements define high-performing, successful teams according to Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code:

  • Belonging: “We are close”
  • Psychological Safety: “We feel safe”
  • Alignment: “We share a future”

A team purpose helps align people; it provides a reason for why the team exists, and why they want to accomplish something. Designing a team purpose helps define a shared future; it gives clarity, motivation, and drives people into action.

Having a team purpose is a way to complement organizational purpose. It helps translate the overarching ‘why’ into a simpler, closer, and more relatable version. A team purpose supports the company purpose by connecting to their everyday reality and activities. It clarifies how a specific team will allow the organization to achieve its broader purpose.

Exercise: How to Design Your Team Purpose

Use this two-step approach to develop your team purpose.

First, address the three critical questions that will help define why the team exists. Second, craft a team purpose statement using the suggested Mad Lib.

Part 1 – Define why the team exists

#1 – What is our job as a team?

In one sentence, write down what your team does, what it delivers, or what it produces. Have the different team members share their ideas; each one can contribute 2 or 3. Cluster the responses based on similarities and rank them from most to least important.

If your team delivers or produces several things, try to find one concept that that represents the majority of the work. For example, “Our team designs user-friendly online shopping experiences” or “Our team turns data into valuable insights to improve decision making across the organization.”

#2 – Who do we work for?

Identify the different groups or stakeholders that your team works for. Choose the top one.

For example, are you helping senior executives across the board make better decisions, or are your insights only for the sales or marketing department? Do you serve a particular office or the entire organization?

#3 – What impact do we want to create?

Your team purpose should capture why your team exists. Understand the pains and gains of who you work for. How can you help them do a better job? Most importantly, what’s the end impact you want to create in their lives beyond just a functional contribution?

For example, “Our managers can spend more time leading” or “Advisors can take care of their clients.”

The HR department at CVS defines its team purpose as, “To help our leaders hire great talent.”

Part 2 – Write your team purpose statement

Use the following Mad Lib to craft the team purpose statement:

Download your free copy of the Team Purpose Canvas

Here are some examples:

Our team provides efficient support so that our managers can spend more time leading, rather than performing administrative work.

“Our team continually comes up with new solutions so that our organization stays at the forefront of innovation.”

“Our team takes care of our advisors so that they can take care of their clients.”

Purpose-driven teams become ambassadors. When employees are part of something bigger than themselves, they inspire others to join the movement.

Your team purpose should complement, not compete with that of the organization. Subcultures are not silos but specific manifestations that feed off each other.

Designing a team purpose is the beginning of a journey. You must then bring it to life in small, daily acts. Remind your team of their purpose by connecting it to the work they do and, most importantly, the impact they create on their core audience.

Once you’ve crafted a powerful purpose, you can use The Culture Design Canvas to continue developing the remaining elements of your team subculture.

Additional Reading about Team Culture

How to Use the Culture Design Canvas

Why You Need Team Rituals (And When to Use Them)

How to Make Better Decisions As a Team

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