The Ongoing Relationship Between Team Purpose and Team Performance
Why a Purpose Statement Drives Team Performance
Team dynamics are the lifeblood of any successful organization. Without a healthy, cohesive dynamic, teams are fragmented at best and chaotic at worst. But what are the key differences between teams that consistently perform well and those that don’t? It is not one factor but several, and a key leading indicator of team performance is purpose. Purpose is a word we’ve long heard in the corporate world, but it’s often described in nebulous terms rather than codified in a clear and thoughtful statement that creates lasting momentum.
Think of a game of darts. The rules of the game are established, right? The bullseye is always what you aim for because it’s unequivocally defined as the highest level of success. But what if you played darts with a group of people who don’t understand what success looks like? One aims for the outer circle because it’s the easiest for them to hit, and another aims for the third circle because they think three is a magic number. Since they do not understand the rules and are not aiming at the bullseye, they may feel like they’ve produced the desired result when in reality, they’re not even close to the target.
This is often the situation for a work team without a purpose statement. When a team does not fully understand why they exist and what they’re contributing to overall organizational goals, they face specific risks that can prevent them from hitting the bullseye of meaningful performance.
For example, the sales team for XYZ International wants to do one thing: sell. That is, after all, what salespeople do. If asked, “What is the purpose of the sales team?” they would likely respond, “To sell.” But without being unified around a clear purpose statement that details why the team exists and what they contribute in relation to the organization’s goals, it can be quite easy for the focus to land on the wrong things such as problematic clients, sales without profits, and individual recognition. How might this play out in everyday performance for the sales team, assuming its members are regionally based?
Teams might prioritize short-term wins over higher strategic initiatives.
How many teams operate with the overall goals of their department at the forefront of daily activities? Teams are often siloed away doing the day-to-day execution of tasks without understanding how they contribute to the greater vision, so it’s natural that they might focus on what seems like a win for today rather than a win for the organization. For the sales team at XYZ, this might look like taking on a client who is not ideal in terms of revenue potential or overall partnership but who simply checks the box labeled “new client.”
Team members will operate according to their own agendas.
Without a purpose statement to drive priorities, team members are left to their own devices and agendas when determining the right opportunities to pursue and what to focus their time on. Like most in sales, XYZ’s sales team members operate on a structure of commission. When an existing client shows red flags such as payment delays or unreasonable demands, it might be tempting to overlook these in pursuit of individual gain rather than team success. When a purpose statement doesn’t exist to anchor the salesperson to the overall vision, working with such clients may jeopardize that vision.
Team members may be working against the overall goals of the organization.
XYZ’s core offering is payroll services. Rather than having internal staff process payroll for employees, companies contract with XYZ to perform this service. The marketing team has established pricing for its offering based partly on the leadership team’s desired profit margins, so if a salesperson reduces the price simply to sell more and achieve their quota, it undermines a specific goal set by leadership. A purpose statement reviewed in meeting reminding the sales team of the impact they make in terms of overall organizational profitability might derail the temptation to reduce pricing for potential clients.
Team members have lower engagement.
Connecting a team to its purpose, a key responsibility of every leader, can be the difference between employees who show up motivated and empowered and those who don’t. Suppose XYZ’s sales team has a clear purpose statement it intentionally keeps alive regardless of outside pressures. In that case, it can propel engagement with the sense they truly are a team working together for a specific impact rather than a group of people loosely connected by virtue of sharing similar job responsibilities.
There is a lack of team momentum.
A team that is not moving in the same direction will take a lot longer to arrive at the desired outcome than one with the clear navigation tool of a purpose statement. When XYZ’s sales team focuses on its purpose–what the team does, who they do it for, and what impact they hope to make–it becomes easier to share best practices that will keep them all headed the same way. And because they can clearly see the path before them, obstacles are replaced by meaningful momentum.
Traditionally, the premise of the risk/reward ratio is that investment risks are examined in proportion to the rewards that might accompany them. In the case of leading a team without a purpose, we look at it a bit differently. It’s not a matter of taking risks; it’s a matter of ignoring them. What rewards is your team losing by ignoring the risks of not having a clear purpose statement?
Back to the game of darts. As famous salesman and consultant Zig Ziglar once said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” But if you, as a leader, provide your team with a clear purpose statement that tells them exactly where to aim, you provide a tool to help them hit the bullseye. Not by luck, and not once in a while, but with a solid plan every time they hold a dart in their hand. And that is a team that shows up to work ready to play the game.