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July 23, 2020

How to define your team's purpose—and make it real in practice

Daily Briefing

    This post is part two of a series on re-engaging your team amid Covid-19. Last week, we published a piece on the importance of building a culture of vulnerability on your team. If you haven't read it yet, we suggest you start there.

    Radio Advisory: A special series on leadership amid crisis

    A lot has changed over the course of the Covid-19 epidemic—and if you're a health care leader, what your organization and patients needed at the start of this crisis likely looks very different than what they need now. As a result, many leaders are looking for ways to re-engage their team as they navigate the continued uncertainty. One of the best ways to provide clarity is by defining a purpose that your team can use as an "anchor" amid all of the change.

    How does defining purpose benefit your team?

    Before we explore how your team can define and execute on their purpose, let's unpack why purpose can be such a powerful tool. When we talk with health care leaders, they highlight four key functions of purpose:

    • Prioritization: We rarely take the time to audit our team’s tasks and shift our responsibilities to align with what’s most needed. When your team has a clear purpose, they can use it to define what shouldn't be on their plate—or what new tasks they need to take on.

    • Stability: There is a lot of stress and uncertainty in the workplace right now, and your teammates may be feeling unsure about what the future holds. Giving your team a clear purpose can help ease anxieties and chart their next steps. And having an external goal to focus on can give your team a greater sense of meaning.

    • Resilience: A clear and motivating purpose helps bolster personal and team resilience—something health care workers need now more than ever. Clearly defining what is within your team's control moment-to-moment can boost feelings of self-efficacy and give your team the energy they need to keep going.

    • Innovation: When you create clarity around your team's responsibilities and available resources, team members can focus their attention on what they do know, rather than working in uncertainty. And once you provide clarity around team goals, you’ll create a space where innovation can happen.

    How to define your team's purpose—and use it in practice

    At its core, purpose defines who the team serves and the value it creates for them. A purpose differs from a mission or vision statement because it focuses on how the team can serve others, rather than what the team wants to do or achieve.

    Here are three ways you can use purpose to re-engage your team:

    1. Prioritize input from key stakeholders when defining your purpose

    When defining your purpose, it's important to have an understanding of what your organization needs most from your team right now.

    To determine who you'll need input from, leaders can start by asking their team the following questions:

    • What does our team do now? Align on a shared definition of your team's current responsibilities.

    • Who do we serve, both internally and externally? Be clear about who you need to lock arms with and which partnerships your team will need to move forward. These will be the key stakeholders you'll want to reach out to.

    • How do we contribute to our organization's purpose? This will help you determine if there are other non-traditional stakeholders you should touch base with.

    Once you have a clear idea of who your key stakeholders are, ask them the following questions to isolate the impact of your product or service and the tasks they need your team to excel at:

    • What do you appreciate about what we deliver?

    • What do you find difficult and want us to do differently?

    As you review their feedback, it might be helpful to ask your team the question, "What would the organization miss out on if we weren't here?" This information should be the core of your team's purpose. There's no perfect formula—focus on capturing your team's impact and value you create for others.

    2. Ensure your team is focused on tasks that align with their purpose

    Effective leaders remind their team of their purpose by keeping it visible and using as a tool to assess the tasks their team should focus on. To keep purpose front of mind, we suggest starting important meetings by restating the purpose or posting the statement in a location where it's easily seen. If there are certain members on your team who have trouble adhering to your new purpose statement, have a conversation with them to better understand why they may be having difficulty letting go of a responsibility or task.

    Similarly, when your team is asked to take on a new responsibility, ask, "Does this task align with our purpose statement?"  If not, check back in with the stakeholders you solicited input from to make sure everyone in the organization is aligned around the scope of your responsibilities and whether they should change.

    3. Iterate on your purpose over time

    Your purpose isn't permanent, and it should change as your stakeholders' needs do. It might be time to shift your purpose if your team is having difficulty getting initiatives off the ground—this indicates your team may not be adding value to your stakeholders.

    It can also be helpful—perhaps now more than ever—to periodically check in with key stakeholders to see if their priorities have changed. Here are some questions you can ask to assess if your purpose still matches their needs:

    • How are you feeling about the value my team is creating for you and your team?

    • Are you getting what you need?

    • How could we be delivering even more value to you?

    As organizational priorities change, check in with your team to ask, "How are we contributing to the organization's overall purpose?" Covid-19 is a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s likely that your team’s purpose will evolve over time. Nonetheless, taking the time to align everyone around a shared goal will re-engage your team as we navigate the uncertain months ahead.

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