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Finding your team's purpose

I would like to write briefly about a common situation in teams: The lack of direction.
Though many teams know it might be helpful for them to agree on a common shared vision they have a hard time finding this vision. The consequences are, that the team is lost in the daily business and it’s not as passionate and happy as it could be. This blog post is about two simple techniques finding a team purpose.

In one of our teams we had this situation as well. We struggled a lot about our vision, rolling our eyes when somebody brought up this topic in our usual quarterly strategy meetings. Typically we had a long discussion without any results. So we stopped talking about this. The team members worked on the topics they were passionate about, but collaboration across the whole team was decreasing.

Some years ago our colleague Jeff Sutherland recommended in his Scrum@Scale training an article by Roy Spence. So I read his book „It’s not what you’re selling, it’s what you stand for“ (/1/). Roy Spence is the co-founder of an advertising agency and worked for clients like South West Airlines, Wal Mart or Whole Foods. In his book he writes about how to find a company’s core purpose: „A core purpose is the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work - it taps their idealistic motivations - and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.“ (/2/)

The good thing about finding the purpose is: it’s easier and faster to find and it triggers more emotions than a vision statement.

First, you avoid long team discussion by making assumptions about the customers or fans of the team:
  • What is the functional benefit to them?
  • What is the emotional benefit to them?
  • What is the ultimate value to them?

 But these questions don’t fire up the team’s passion. Roy gives some other useful questions:
  • What difference has our product/service made in their life?
  • What would they lose if we ceased to exist?
  • From their perspective: In which areas do we need to improve in order to be world-class?

These are assumptions about the customers of the team. So, what is the most important feedback we need to collect from them to validate these assumptions and how does it flow back to the team?

These are great questions to start with asking your team. And if you don’t get an emotional reaction you’re maybe not there yet. Flip your thinking and take a look at what you’re not willing to do. As long as you haven’t found the purpose that is engaging the team’s hearts make a commitment to finding it. „That’s your purpose until you find your purpose.“ (/3/)

A good technique to let the team agree on the next step finding their purpose is „Toyota Kata“. This is a practice described by Mike Rother (/4/), who observed this at Toyota. Again, ask some questions and agree on a small, quick experiment to collect the data you need.

The questions are:
  1. What is the Target Condition?
  2. What is the Actual Condition now?
  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition?
  4. What is the Next Step (next experiment)? What do you expect?
  5. How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

If you timebox this exercise to 15 or 20 minutes the team can agree on one small step, they discussed about for month or years.


/1/ Spence, Roy (2009): It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose, Kindle Edition; Portfolio
/2/ Ibid.
/3/ Ibid.
/4/ Rother, Mike (2017): The Toyota Kata Practice Guide: Practicing Scientific Thinking Skills for Superior Results in 20 Minutes a Day, Kindle Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 


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