Building A High-Performing Team — Chapter 2
Creating a Shared Sense of Purpose
When coaching session fellow leaders, one of the recurring questions I get is about building high-performance teams — so I decided to dedicate a series of newsletter issues to the topic, basically a free course.
With this post, I start diving into the how — giving you actionable advice about what to focus on, and how to actually build such teams. Today, we’ll focus on something that’s truly essential — a shared sense of purpose, and how to create that.
Create a Shared Sense of Purpose
Conventional wisdom often underestimates the power of a shared sense of purpose, yet it's the secret sauce behind high-performing teams. Picture this: a group of individuals, each with their own unique skills and perspectives, but united by a common mission that ignites their passion and drives their performance to unprecedented heights. According to a slew of research, teams with a deep, shared sense of purpose outperform their peers not just by a little, but by leaps and bounds.
It's not just about aligning tasks; it's about aligning hearts and minds towards a singular, compelling vision. The magic happens when every team member doesn't just understand the 'what' and the 'how,' but deeply connects with the 'why' behind their work.
A leader's job of creating a strong sense of purpose for their team is critical. Imagine leaders as the people who draw the map and keep everyone moving together.
Here is how to do it:
Define the Team’s Mission
Begin by articulating what the team aims to achieve, making sure it aligns with the larger objectives of your organization. Involve your stakeholders to help with the alignment.
Tell the story to the team — why does the mission matter? Why not focus on something else? Why now, and not later? Can they connect to the mission? What are their thoughts and challenges? What can you learn from it?
Involve the Team in Goal Setting
Once you have a shared mission, translate it into specific, measurable, and achievable goals. Organize interactive sessions where team members can voice their ideas and perspectives. This could be through brainstorming sessions or structured workshops. The aim is to collaboratively set relevant goals that resonate with everyone.
Communicate and Reinforce the Purpose Regularly
Make the shared purpose a part of everyday conversations. During team meetings, relate ongoing projects and tasks back to how they contribute to the shared goals.
Recognize Achievements Aligned with the Purpose
Celebrate milestones and achievements that advance the team towards its shared purpose. This could be through shout-outs in team meetings, appreciation emails, or small team events.
Conduct a “Mission Workshop” where the team collaborates to draft a mission statement. Use tools like digital whiteboards for collective brainstorming and feedback.
Implement “Goal-Oriented Standups” where team members briefly discuss how their daily work aligns with the team’s shared goals.
Organize regular “Purpose Reviews” where the team reviews their progress towards the shared goals and adjusts them if needed.
During performance evaluations, tie achievements to the mission whenever it makes sense (watch out for other kinds of achievements, the mission should not overshadow those).
Regularly share relevant customer/user feedback with the team.
Leader Behaviors to Foster a Shared Sense of Purpose:
Be a role model in aligning your actions with the team’s mission.
Encourage open dialogue about the team’s direction and goals.
Show enthusiasm about the shared purpose and its importance.
Creating a shared sense of purpose enhances team cohesion and drives motivation, leading to more engaged and productive team members.
Purpose, Mission, Vision, Strategy?!
This is a good point to stop for a quick interlude — we often hear these three terms used somewhat interchangeably. I’m not foolish enough to say I hold the One True Meaning of them, but I can clarify what I mean when I use them, so you can map my terms out to your own system:
Purpose: almost a 1:1 map to Mission in my book, I use them interchangeably.
Mission: The mission statement is about your high-level purpose.
Vision: Expresses the future state of what/where/how you want to be.
Strategy: It is about focus on whom you are servicing and what you're trying to deliver that gets you closer to the state described in your Vision. Still high-level, but actual milestones, big steps.
So again… just to try to be clear… Vision is about what you want to be, over a long period of time. The Mission is about purpose, but even more so about the now and what you're doing. So ideally, you can now see why I suggest the order goes Vision and then Mission.
Tesla has actually been messing with their statements a bit. The following is from a 2011 presentation as well as a CEO blog...
Vision: Create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles
Mission statement: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible.
And yet on their about section, they just list mission: Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Vision: to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Mission: We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.
Why is having a mission statement so important?
Good mission statements are shortcuts, memory helpers, focus drivers and motivators. They help us align and make decisions easier.
A good mission statement:
Conveys a clear, simple, and compelling perspective
Easy for people to comprehend, interpret, and remember, without too deep business context
Has emotional appeal
Long-lasting (should make sense for a long time)
Helps us make clear decisions
Mission statements help us focus.
Focus is as much about what we’re not doing as it is about what we're fixing our eyes on.
A good mission statement helps us decide about priorities when looking at an endless pile of tasks and options.
A good mission statement is only complete with the addendum of how you’ll know you’re successful — which can be qualitative or quantitative data.
Typical issues I’ve seen with mission statements
When they are too high-level and vague: “Make the world better” type statements — they sound nice, but it’s very far from being actionable. It isn’t helpful in making decisions and cannot really drive a strategy.
When they are too low-level and specific: “Develop and deliver a state-of-the-art, Bluetooth-enabled, stainless-steel smart water bottle that tracks hydration levels in real-time, syncs with all major fitness tracking apps on devices running at least Android 10 or iOS 13, aims to increase the average user's daily water intake by 35% within the first six months of usage, and reduces plastic waste by motivating users to meet specific hydration goals, thereby contributing to a 5% reduction in global plastic bottle consumption by 2025” — doesn’t leave too much freedom, does it? Makes it hard to experiment, and relate to.
When they are all about numbers: “Increase revenue from tier-2 paid users” — it misses the emotional appeal, it’s not really compelling and sounds more like a metric.
That’s all for today, folks, stay tuned for the next lesson in building high-performance teams!
If you know a leader who would benefit from this series, make sure to share this with them and urge them to subscribe!