Why does your team exist?

When I ask people in workshops to discuss that question and craft a simple answer, an interesting thing often happens.

Typically, people respond with comments like this: ‘We repair and maintain horizontal infrastructure.’ ‘We provide IT support for the company.’ ’We take care of the organisations accounts.’ ‘We deliver community-based health care.’ Maybe you came up with a similar response yourself.

Pause and think. Are you describing why your team exists? Or are you describing what your team does?

What your team does is important. For most of us our workdays are focused on what we need to do. We spend a lot of time being task-oriented. The risk is that we can begin to think that the tasks are the reason for our existence. When that happens work can become a drudgery—a monotonous repetition of going through the motions.

Our tasks are not the reason for our existence. They are a means to an end. We need to know why we are performing tasks. A sense of purpose helps to keep us all engaged and productive.

Define your team's purpose

Being able to describe the purpose of your work in everyday, real language is the key. Vague, grandiose statements like ‘We are here to be the best in our field and save the world’ are not going to be useful.

To be useful, the way you describe your purpose needs to:

• focus on the people you serve
• describe the positive impact you have on their lives
• use everyday language (it should roll off the tongue as part of an ordinary conversation)
• give your work a sense of meaning and purpose.

Often the most useful ‘purpose statements’ are the ones that are naturally generated from within the team. Figuring out how to describe your team purpose can be fun. Start by regularly asking questions.
• What’s the point of our work?
• Who benefits from us doing this?
• What do our efforts enable other people to do?

Challenge the answers you give by continuing to ask, ‘but why?’ or by adding the question ‘which means?’. Take notice of the phrases that feel natural and authentic. By making the discussion of purpose a part of everyday workplace conversation how you view your tasks will change.

Keep it real

Simple, honest and authentic statements of purpose work best. Here is an example that you might find amusing but makes the point.

I was once exploring this topic of team purpose with a group of workers for a local government team. They were officially the team that looked after the pipes and drains. As we kept asking the ‘why’ and ‘which means’ questions the leader of the team eventually came out with this statement: ‘We are here to make sure that when everyone in this city gets home from work today, they will be able to flush their toilet’.

I’m sure you would agree that their team has a very important reason for existing.

Why does your team exist?

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