Opening Reflections

Take a Moment:

  • Before we proceed, what do you think is the function of “Purpose” for a team?
  • What do you think are the necessary qualities for a Purpose to be effective in its function?

The Purpose of a Team

It may seem to be an obvious statement but teams that have no clear purpose always fail to achieve. Why? Because teams are defined by their purpose and their purpose defines what they are to achieve. Therefore, teams with no purpose can never achieve anything, they are pointless. Teams with no clearly expressed purpose never know if they have accomplished what they think is their goal and each individual member will have their own version of what that goal is.

Believe it or not many teams have no clearly defined purpose and therefore have no idea what they are about. Teams are not an end in themselves their purpose is to achieve some goal and that goal needs to be clear, understood and accepted by the team members. Only then can the team’s members agree what their purpose is and achieve that purpose.  Bringing about this common view is the responsibility of the leader and for the servant leader it is key to enabling team members to achieve their full potential.

There is trap into which the leader can fall: That is to believe that because the purpose is clear to them that it must be obvious to the whole team. It takes work to achieve the commonality of purpose and unless that work is undertaken, the purpose, which may be clear to you as the leader, will not be clear to the team members.

The Most Important Factor

A clear and common purpose is the most important factor determining successful outcomes for the team. It is the reason that the team members choose to cooperate, to work together. As individuals they want the outcome and recognise that they need to work together to achieve it. Consequently they are prepared to subordinate themselves to the team goal and work cooperatively in order to achieve it.

If the purpose is the reason “Why?” for the team, then it is the purpose that draws the team together. More than this, it is the fact that members share the same purpose that holds them together when the going gets tough. That is when the purpose needs to be clear, understood and owned. Unless it is, the team will at best under perform when it gets tough and at worst, give up. This is because “an ill-defined team purpose sows the seeds of confusion and conflict” (Pat MacMillan) and that is in the easy times, so image how that confusion and conflict becomes dominant when things are difficult.

Alignment – A Unified Intention

Enabling team members to pull in the same direction, working towards the same end with a “unified intention” to achieve the same goal, the team purpose, is called alignment. This means that team members have agreed to the importance of the team purpose because it lines up with their individual goals. They recognise, therefore, that if the team succeeds in achieving its goals then they will also succeed in achieving their goals.

Each team member has a personal and individual journey to complete to work through the alignment of their personal goals with those of the team. For some this may be a bigger issue than for others, but it is the leader’s responsibility to enable team members to complete that journey.

For some a lack of alignment will lead to frustration and anger as their goals are not met. For others it leads to apathy. In either case the individuals will not be fulfilling their potential. In both cases they will have a negative impact on other team members because they are not all on the “same page”. They will be unable to contribute effectively to achieving the team purpose. In some cases they may be a toxic influence, disrupting the cooperation of their fellow team members.

Alignment cannot be achieved by grand speeches and motivational talks. It must be won, one person at a time as they work through their issues and come to own the team’s common purpose for themselves. This takes time but if they cannot arrive in that place then, for the benefit of the team, they need to step aside in favour of someone who does identify with the team’s purpose.

Owning the Purpose

In order for the team to own the purpose they need to contribute to its formulation. This is best done in workshop format. This allows the team to examine the purpose in detail, reflect upon and resolve the issues that arise and place their mark upon it in the wording.  The result is the team’s mission statement. Such processes generate ownership on the part of those who participate. Pat MacMillan outlines a process for this in “The Performance Factor

Having developed an agreed statement of purpose (the mission statement) it can often be mediocre and uninspiring. Don’t be satisfied with this draft; it needs to be reviewed, evaluated and the wording refined to make it sharp, clear and inspiring.

Often a team will be working to a mission statement that has been handed down by whoever established the team. In this case the workshop should be about evaluating the given mission statement and refining the wording. The refined wording should then be offered to the people who established the team. Most times they will accept the refined statement. The benefit is ownership of the purpose by the team. This ownership is strengthened if they have contributed to the wording, even if it may seem a cosmetic change; it is their stamp of ownership. Ownership leads to energy, enthusiasm, commitment, creativity and drive.

Essential Factors

An effective purpose must be:

  • Clear (I see it)

The benefits to be gained from achieving the purpose, the reward for the team members’ effort, must be clear and understandable. Because it’s clear to you as a leader do not assume it’s is clear to everyone else. Refresh your memory about SMART objectives in the notes for the previous lesson – The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader.

  • Relevant (I want it)

Not only must the team’s purpose be appropriate for the parent organisation but it must have relevance for the team members too. It needs to be in keeping with their needs, interests and goals.  In other words the team members must want to achieve the purpose; it must motivate them to bring about the end result.

  • Significant (It’s worth it)

In short, the purpose must be worth the effort. Not only must it be relevant but it must be worth achieving. Most times this implies that the task will be big enough or have sufficient impact to make the risks, hard work and effort required worthwhile.

  • Achievable (I believe it)

The goals must be realistic, it must be possible to achieve them otherwise no one will believe It is possible. If the team doesn’t believe it is possible then they will not work towards it.  A danger is that a team member who does not think that the goal is achievable will stay quiet and just go with flow. Such a person is unlikely to commit to the task and will be a weak link in the team.

  • Urgent (I want it … now!)

There needs to be a sense of urgency about the task and it needs to be real. A “hyped up” urgency will be seen through and the lack of credibility will weaken the team’s commitment.

 A purpose with these attributes binds the team together, giving it focus. The Christ-centred servant leader is the one responsible for leading the team to establish such a clear, common and shared purpose. To do so they need to understand their people and work with them both individually and together to bring about the commitment that is needed.


Take a Moment:

  • Think about the teams to which have belonged or do belong to now.
    • Do/did they have a clear purpose owned by all the members?
    • Can you write that purpose down?
    • How would you asses the team’s performance?
  • What do you think can be done to refine the purpose and enhance the level of ownership and commitment of each team?


Take a Moment:

  • Review and reflect on the seven practices of a Christ-centred servant leader that we looked at in the last lesson.
  • How would they workout for you, as you seek to help the team develop a shared, common purpose team?