Clarity of Purpose

August 3, 2011 -- Sal Silvester

What is your team's purpose?

What is your team supposed to do that no other team does?

These are important questions for all teams - whether you belong to a management team, a functional team, a project team, or other.

The challenge in most organizations is that teams don't have clarity about their purpose. They brush it off as something too fluffy to consider. Or, for other teams, their purpose ends up on a pretty poster in a conference room and does nothing but take up wall space.

You'll know your purpose isn't clear by the way your team spends time together. Teams that lack clarity of purpose often show these symptoms.

  • They do little more than the "round robin" in meetings, where everyone shares something about what they accomplished that no one else cares about.
  • Team leaders get caught in the firestorm of everyday life and rarely move out of the role of "Doer."
  • Problems linger and go unresolved.
  • Tactical priorities and short-term results take precedence over higher-level, strategic items.
  • Senior leaders are more focused on their department's agenda and personal egos instead of on overall management team results.

Do you want to elevate the effectiveness of your team?

If so, start by clarifying your purpose. Here's how.

Step 1: Clarify Your Team's Function

Prior to understanding your team’s purpose, you should reflect on the true function of the team. The research published in the book Senior Leadership Teams identified four major types of senior leadership teams, each serving a distinct function – informational teams, consultative teams, coordinating teams, and decision making teams.

Informational teams exchange information about various aspects of the business and they meet to hear about direction and initiatives from the CEO or the senior leader. The purpose of this type of team is to make individual leaders better informed, better aligned, and more able to do their jobs.

Consultative teams are brought together to help the senior leader through discussion and by providing advice about key decisions, changes in the market, customer considerations, and other aspects of the business. They do not make decisions, but rather provide necessary information and act as a sounding board before the senior leader makes the final call. The overall purpose of a consultative team is to make the CEO or senior leader better informed and better at his or her job.

Coordinating Teams are comprised of members who come together to coordinate their leadership activities as they execute initiatives.  For example, a senior leadership team at a software company that is launching a new product would require coordination across product development, marketing, sales,  and maybe even retail outlets. The function of coordinating teams is to manage operational inter-dependencies. Members here are highly interdependent, they have shared responsibilities, and must work together toward a common purpose.

Decision making teams make the small number of critical decisions that are most consequential for the organization as a whole. I consider these the most complex of all the teams and also potentially the most valuable.

What type of team do you have?

What type of team do you need?

Step 2: Define Your Team Purpose

Now that you understand your team's function, the next step is to define your purpose. This isn't always an easy process. In fact, the more ambiguity your team has about its purpose, the more difficult this will be. In  a recent performance session with a management team in Boulder, Colorado, participants described the process as "painful."

Here are the three questions that, when answered, will fully define your purpose.

  1. What should this team do that no other team does?
  2. Where is the team going? What is our preferred vision for the future?
  3. How is the team going to get there? (Peel back the onion on this one and you’ll notice that this question is answered with the key values that enable the team to be most effective.)

Step 3: Define Your Time

With clarity of your team's purpose, you can now define how and when you will spend time together. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • What will your meeting structure look like based on your new team purpose?
  • What is the purpose of each meeting?
  • Are there other ways to share information outside of your meeting time?
  • What will you and your team stop doing?

Having clarity of purpose will help your team move beyond information sharing to actually solving problems and making decisions.

Sounds more valuable doesn't it?

How is your team doing?

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