As we near the end of our 6-part series that defines team effectiveness and the five must-have factors, it almost seems redundant to say that effective teams share commitment to a a common purpose.
As obvious as that may seem, there are four hidden landmines that interfere with well-intending team members' commitment to a common purpose. These insidious interferences trip up strong teams, too, so they are worth reviewing.
#1 - Commitment to a Common Purpose Starts by Identifying a Common Purpose
Assuming is a dangerous game. But it happens frequently when teams are assembled.
Here's a classic example. The company is introducing a new system, one that will require a customized interface and extensive work with the vendor for set-up, training and implementation.
To select people to the team, the vendor's recommendations are followed. Two from IT, one from HR, one from Finance, one from Operations, and one from Sales/Marketing... Poof, you have a team!
The assumption is made that everyone understands the common purpose. It's to get the system installed, right?
Each member of the team may interpret that purpose differently. Different interpretations won't yield commitment to a common purpose.
IT is looking at integration with other systems, functionality and security. That's part of getting the system installed.
HR is looking at uploading all the employment records and considering pathways to preserve confidentiality, along with connecting key data like payroll and vacation day accrual.
Finance is looking at the cost. Operations is looking at the efficiencies and considering the impact on productivity. Sales/Marketing is looking at the customer experience and how it will be impacted. All of these considerations are serving the purpose of getting the system installed.
And all of these considerations can (and likely will!) trigger conflict. Who wins when the primary considerations of two team members are at cross-purposes?
The common purpose needs to be more than an outcome. This team needs to understand WHY the system is being installed. That over-arching common purpose is one that no one on this team can articulate. It was lost in some budget meeting or approval process many months ago.
Identifying the real common purpose will inspire this team and help them operate more effectively. To get commitment to a common purpose, the team has to elevate and get to the WHY. In this case, perhaps the why is to streamline all data in order to ensure accelerated development for all employees. Knowing this will unite the group around something more inspiring than "get the system installed." Knowing this will give the team clarity when tough choices have to be made -- with the larger purpose, their decision criteria is simple: which choice best serves the purpose?
#2 - You Can't Have Commitment to Common Purpose without Considering Individual Needs
Commitment to a common purpose is much easier to achieve when people see the common good, the common elements that impact each of them individually. No matter how altruistic team members may be, real commitment comes from believing there is something good, noble, beneficial or worthy to work toward. That is measured, naturally, by one's own experience and values.
Taking time to consider and convey how the common purpose will meet the needs of individual team members is a real time saver in the long run.
#3 - Over Time, Commitment Wanes and Needs to be Recharged
Commitment to a common purpose is not a permanent condition. People need to be reminded about the WHY and also about HOW the common purpose will serve their own individual interests. Time introduces new ideas, new commitments, and new options. Team members need to remind each other often about the importance of the work they are doing together.
#4 - The Purpose Can Be Lost if Team Members Get Distracted
Commitment to a common purpose will be lost if team members are distracted by team politics, unhealthy conflict, ego-driven turf wars or other unproductive team behaviors. This commitment is just one of the five factors that impact team effectiveness. Inattention to the other factors will, over time, erode commitment as team members get distracted and lose faith in the shared commitment.
Teams should work to identify, commit to and protect their shared purpose. It matters because it unites the team, recharges the team. and provides clarity for the team. Without it, the team will flounder and may never achieve the purpose it was formed to achieve. That's called wasting time.
- Check out the other posts in this series about what it takes to be an effective team.
- Visit our website to learn about support services for teams.
- Download this free infographic about how to make decisions as a team.
Deb Calvert is President of People First Productivity Solutions, the company that helps you build organizational strength by putting people first. Book Deb today to speak at your leadership or team events, to conduct MBTI workshops to improve team effectiveness, or to work with you as your Executive Coach.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published March 2016 and has been recently updated.