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Unified purpose: The bedrock of team performance

Unified purpose: The bedrock of team performance
Published: September 26, 2023
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David Cooper is a senior consultant at Impact Americas. In this article he talks about why a unified purpose is important for teams and how to define this for yourself. 

No purpose, no performance

There are many things that a team needs in order to perform at its best, but what really transforms a group of skilled individuals into a high-functioning team is a unified purpose ­– a collective understanding of why the team exists.

A team’s purpose should be clear, and everyone in the team should understand and be able to articulate it. Unified purpose is at the heart of every high-performing team, and it’s at the centre of Impact's Team Performance Model. No purpose, no performance.

In my twenty-plus years as a leadership consultant, I’ve found a lack of coherent, collective purpose to be the cause of more behavioural and performance gaps in teams than most other aspects of teaming. So many groups I’ve worked with have found the root cause of many of their issues to be in not collectively understanding and articulating their reason for existence. Until we collectively understand why we exist and what our specific goals and tasks are, we can end up behaving in all sorts of different ways based on our own different interpretations of why we exist.

Specificity matters

One mistake that is often made when teams try to articulate their purpose is that they just use the organisational purpose, or something too similar to it. Whilst the broader organisational goals, purpose and mission are what the team services, and definitely need to be held closely, the team’s own purpose needs to be much more specific. It needs to be grounded in a real understanding of how the team performs to meet its goals. A really clear team purpose statement is one that’s concise, but then partnered with a short list of the core ways in which the team works to achieve this purpose.

Find your purpose

Articulating a team’s purpose can feel like a big, complex task, but it’s simply the answer to the question ‘why does this team exist?’

Having an open conversation as a group about everyone’s interpretation of this question can highlight subtle differences that can add up to big problems. But it can also provide an important opportunity for collectively examining and committing to the language the team wants to use about the work it does. It’s important that everyone feels consulted and involved in this process.  A truly unified purpose requires buy-in from the whole team.

Try this simple exercise with your team today to see how well aligned you are on your purpose.  Have each team member complete the statements below and then work together as a team to find the final version of each statement that all members can agree and commit to:

We exist to ______________________________________________________________________

We service this existence by:

  • ___________________________________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________________________________


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