3 Simple Questions Can Reveal Your Team’s Purpose and Drive Higher Levels of Engagement

A clearly articulated, aspirational purpose has become a key talent management strategy for many organizations in today’s mission-driven economy. Whether that drive stems from younger generations who seek jobs at value-driven companies, or from an overall ethical shift in business, more organizations are shifting their focus to the needs of multiple stakeholders—communities, employees, the natural environment—not just shareholder gains.

Purpose for everyone

An organization’s purpose must permeate through each department, division, and team, so that everyone can feel inspired by it, embody it, and work toward it. Only a true sense of shared purpose can drive the highest levels of retention, engagement and innovation.

While many companies spend countless hours, resources, and money crafting the perfect purpose statement to proudly display on their websites and social media channels, few organizations ask - and act on - an essential question: How do we bring our purpose down from the C-Suite to the managers and employees who need to actually feel it, and live it?

Why we work determines how well we work  

So, how do we help our people feel truly connected to our organization’s purpose?

Identifying purpose with your on-the-ground teams doesn't take hours with a consultant or even a bevy of resources. Instead, it requires your leaders, managers, and employees take the time to explore three key questions that can cultivate a stronger connection to a greater “why”:

1.  Aside from a paycheck, what gets you out of bed and into work everyday?

2.  How would you define your team's purpose? What do you do, how do you do it, and why do you do it?

3. How does what you do - individually and as a team - fit in with, and contribute to, the wider organization’s success?

Two scenarios

How could this activity pan out in the real world? Here are two examples, one involving a People Piece client and the other involving my previous career as a leader in the natural foods industry.

  1. Last year, The People Piece led an off-site in Taiwan that brought together 9 East Asian sales operations employees with their 4 US and UK-based sales managers. The managers wanted their employees to step up into greater ownership and proactivity. We guessed the employees might be holding back because they may not have realized just how important they were to the wider organization’s success. So we had the group answer the 3 purpose questions outlined above through a visual collaborative brainstorm using post-its. We also shared short video clips featuring colleagues from the US and UK singing the praises of their East Asian counterparts and all they appreciated about them. When the employees reflected on these activities, they were moved and motivated to see just what a critical role they play for the company, and why stepping up would help even more. Managers have reported a fundamental shift since the retreat.

  2. 5 years ago, I led a team of over 350 people and asked them these questions. After asking employees what kept them motivated to come to work each day, I posted the answers throughout the hallways of our building so everyone could see them. The responses were nothing short of revelatory. I suddenly knew so much more about the individuals on my team, and we all learned so much more about each other. By being honest and a little bit vulnerable, we found that the team’s sense of community and support inspired us to come back to work every day with even more passion and commitment. While my team members might have known what motivated them individually, revealing what was important to their colleagues was a deeply moving and motivating experience. It also helped me become a better, more attuned leader.

Reveal, connect, and share

When you ask purpose-oriented questions, you uncover your team members’ motivations, drive a greater sense of ownership, and learn a lot about how employees view the impact of their work. You also help ignite an even more rewarding connection between employees and a deeper understanding of why and how you and your team are in this together.

Yet these questions are just the beginning. I challenge you to take it a step further: try using your new insights to draft a new team purpose statement. Seek feedback from team members. Then proudly display your purpose statement in your workplace or on a shared cloud drive where everyone can see it. You might quickly read it at the start of regular team meetings. These tools might just have a profound effect on catalyzing your team and building a stronger, more successful, and more purpose-driven company.

We wish you the best of luck in uncovering your “why” at work. Be in touch if you want to find out more about how our team assessments, trainings, and facilitated session have helped develop more purpose-driven cultures at tech companies, global sales organizations, and public utilities in the US, Europe, and Asia.
Jess Peabody joined The People Piece as our Programs Lead in April of this year. Before that, she served as Community Director at Conscious Capitalism, with 11 years at Whole Foods Market as a Team Leader, Associate Store Team Leader, and Learning and Development Associate Director prior to that.