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February 3, 2020 //

Creating a Purpose-Driven Team (continued): Tip #1 – DISCOVER the purpose

In my last blog, I asserted that the most reliable way to keep our team members “motivated” –- or (as I referred to it) “to keep them on the road to self-actualization” —  is to lead with purpose.  That article ended with a suggestion to “stay tuned for TIPS” for doing so.

So, let’s being with my first tip:  DISCOVER the Purpose of your organization.

Chance are, if you ask members of your organization’s Leadership to state the “purpose” of your organization, they could provide you with an official “Statement of Purpose”.  But I would challenge you to examine this Purpose Statement carefully:  How old is it?  How was it conceived?  Is it well-known throughout the organization?  Does it guide your organization’s key decisions?  Does it inspire your teams to do their very best work?  Does it keep them on the road to self-actualization? 

If you’re not sure, consider whether the Purpose Statement was invented by heads (all-be-them well-meaning), or inspired by hearts?  Because I would argue that purpose can’t be invented…or at least it shouldn’t be.  Rather, PURPOSE ALWAYS EXISTS.  As such, it can…and should…be DISCOVERED.  How?  Through empathy: Through feeling and understanding the deepest, and most common, fulfillment needs of your organization.

And that means asking provocative questions, listening to the answers…rinsing and repeating.

Deborah Ball, a former Dean of the School of Education at my alma mater, the University of Michigan (UofM), provides a great example.  As a new Dean, Ms. Ball wanted to clarify her organization’s purpose so that she could increase employees’ focus, commitment, and collaboration.

To “learn and unlearn the organization,” as she put it, she interviewed every faculty member in the School of Education.  She expected variances of opinion—and they were there of course.  But she also found surprising commonality…what she called “an emerging story” about the faculty’s strong desire to have a positive impact on society.

But Ms. Ball’s process didn’t stop there…she then wrote up what she heard (or believed she heard), shared it with the people she had interviewed, listened to their reactions…and continued to refine their story.

So as you can see, this was not just a “listening tour”; it was an extended, disciplined, iterative process. In other words, it was Agile by its very nature.  She refered to the process as “collective creation” (which, by the way, is a phrase borrowed directly from Agile and Design-thinking methodologies).

As the process continued, it became clear that UofM’s School of Education had common strengths and desires that could be used for “social good” (such as addressing issues of educational affordability and serving underrepresented populations).  And it was this “theme” that Ms. Ball DISCOVERED to be one of the most universally “inspirational” throughout the School of Ed.  In other words, through this iterative, deeply empathic process, she DISCOVERED a foundational element of her organization’s Purpose.

So here’s my challenge for you:  How old is your organization’s Statement of Purpose?  How was it conceived?  Is it well-known throughout your organization?  Does it guide your organization’s key decisions?  Does it inspire your Teams to do their very best work?  Most importantly, does it keep your team’s members on the road to self-actualization?  And if not…or you’re not sure…have you, as leaders, gone through an iterative process of discovering (or re-discovering) your organization’s (or your maybe just your Team’s) purpose?  Do you see any benefit to doing so?  Please leave your comments below.  We’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, stay tuned for more tips in this Blog series for creating a Purpose-Driven Team.

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