I’ve been working with a senior leadership team recently who were all heading off in different directions. They were all very competent individuals, yet when they came together as a leadership team, things just didn’t work.
Historically, higher level decisions had been made by the Chairman and Chief Executive, with direction given to each leader from above. Although this had worked initially, the Chief Executive was now feeling isolated, left to plan, problem solve, and make decisions on his own. Meanwhile, the individual leaders were focused on their part of the organisation, having little interest in discussing the organisation as a whole.
During observations of the team, I could see how some members felt uncomfortable sharing their opinions on other parts of the organisation. While others openly shared theirs, their opinion was predominantly negative.
In its current state, this group of individuals was not a team. Each member of the group was focused on his or her own part of the organisation, while the Chief Executive was left unsupported and stressed.
Part of my work with the team was to share my observations. In effect, this was like holding a mirror up to my clients so they could see and hear for themselves how their behaviour looked from the outside. The feedback was explored, understood and acknowledged by all members; then we agreed on a development plan.
We started with awareness around the team’s purpose. It was important to understand what the team was, what brought them together, and what they were there to achieve.
A team purpose gives perspective on where the team is going. By providing clarity on the team’s reason for being, it keeps the team heading in the right direction by making sure all its members are on the same page.
We started with a simple question: “Why do you get up in the morning?” which allowed each team member to reflect on what motivated them in their work.
We then progressed to “Why do we exist as a team?”
At face value, this seems a simple question. However, it generated a lengthy discussion as each team member was used to only focusing on his or her own part of the organisation and so only considered their part of the story in their response. It took some time to shift their thinking from their part of the organisation to the wider leadership team, something we termed ‘heads down to heads up’.
After some discussion, the team members could collectively explain:
What was really noticeable was how their language changed from talking about ‘me’, to talking about ‘we’.
The team now had a focus. Their new purpose had given them a way of connecting their work to something important, a reason to exist as a team. Once they could see their role in relation to something bigger than just their part of the organisation, they could see the importance of aligning their efforts behind the shared purpose and felt free to challenge anything that wasn’t aligned.
As a team, knowing and living your purpose not only ensures you’re all heading in the same direction; it brings your team together, improves relationships and reduces wasted effort and time. Ultimately, a purposeful team results in great leaders, great teams, and a great organisation.