Building Your Team’s Purpose

After last weeks post defining your team’s purpose, it is now time to look at the steps you need to consider when Building your Team’s Purpose (whether this be your Organization’s Why or your Teams’ Nested Why)

One company that I have seen utilize Purpose to ignite profits is a company run by a friend of mind, that being Intimo Lingerie. Their approach has focused on providing purpose to its ‘extended’ staff. It is inspired less by the needs of customers and more by a vision to make direct sales relevant and aspirational to women. The leadership team has been critical in inspiring female independence (‘girl boss’) in the economy and giving women a source of purpose. It does so much more than this, but at all times has retained its core vision of empowering women through work.

I conducted a great project with Schweppes under the stewardship of Troy McKinna and with the legendary Carlos Furnari established a Purpose and a Story that definitely became more engaging than a presentation filled with numbers and data. The steps we undertook are as follows:

Before you get everyone into the room it is advisable for Project Leader & all the participants to undertake ‘homework’ to set the scene for the day.

  • Build a team & invite participants
  • Schedule enough time
  • Find the right setting
  • Send out homework
  • Undertake interviews
  • Collect stories
  • Set up the room in advance.

Refer to last week’s blog http://defining your team’s purpose for the logistics requirements that will help you get clarity prior to the workshop

From this ‘homework’ it will be very evident as to the root strengths of your team or organization. It is the team’s first job to collate the facts.

Questions to ask:

  • What are my distinctive characteristics?
  • What made me famous in the first place?
  • What is unique about my heritage?
  • What is my origin story?

It is these attributes that will provide the bedrock for your team’s Purpose

Some of the stories would have been collected as part of the ‘clarity’ phase AND it is also important to probe for further stories on the day. An early Apple slogan once proclaimed, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” These conversations are simple, but that doesn’t mean it is. The tough part is that participants are forced to find language to express how they feel. For a few people, this will be easy enough, buy most participants find that having these conversations takes considerable energy.

Story prompters:

  • Tell specific stories of when you have felt most proud to work for the organization
  • In each of your stories, what was the specific contribution your organization made to the lives of others?

One of the exercises we conducted with Schweppes was a ‘fairytale’ exercise. Some of the gold that came from the senior executives included:

To mark their progress, the king gave the folk of the Yellow Kingdom a priceless gift: the confidence to outsmart the enemy.

The Yellow Kingdom fizzed and bubbled with the heady feeling of success and its people drank in the Schweppervesence

Their happiness could be heard throughout the land…..

Even in the Red Kingdom

When time is up, each team will report to the rest of the room, sharing its top two or three stories. By “top” we mean those that resonate most with the team members – the stories that caused the greatest visceral response. This is an immensely valuable part of the process because it is rare that leaders of the business get together in a group to think beyond the numbers and reflect on what their organization contributes to others.

Sometimes two teams will come up phrases that are similar but not identical. For example, one might say, “To foster creativity,” and another might say, “To promote freedom of thought.” The fact that they are thinking along the same lines is a good thing. It means that their stories illustrate a consistent theme within the organization. If you can, have the two teams agree on a consolidated version as you go along.

It is these themes that will help the authentication of personality, voice, values (if you don’t already have them) and ultimately your Archetypal identity.

Refer to two recent blogs of mine that delved into this topic what archetypal identity is your organisation living? & values underpin a purpose driven organisation

The next step in the process is for the group to turn the verbs / action phrases and impact statements elicited from the storytelling and theme gathering into a starting Storyboard.

Once we are agreed on a Storyboard, we use numerous exercises to develop ‘Participant Purpose Statements” which will later evolve into a single draft statement that the group will carry forward and refine further.

We used other companies as stimulus:

And using the above template is a great way to start for you

The team presentations should be short – two minute maximum per team. Each team should cover the following:

  • State the WHY (with no explanation or detail)
  • The Benefits (the ‘How’)
  • Link to two of the stories shared earlier in the workshop that best exemplify the WHY being lived. Doing so ensures the WHY is based on who you actually are and demonstrates that communicating your stories is a great way to share the WHY

Discovering a WHY is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The process allows us to build the kind of emotional connections to the WHY that will make it genuine, true and long lasting. Over the months and years that follow your Purpose workshop / discovery session, it is possible that the words of the organizations Purpose Statement will change slightly. What should not change is the feeling behind the words.

This is why it is wise to build your Purpose Statement into a story or a Manifesto that will be a beacon for ongoing activity.

In the Schweppes session we looked at other companies manifesto as a guide:

Whilst I am not at liberty to show the finished product of the Schweppes session, I cannot resist in unveiling some of Carlos’s brilliance:

Of course, this won’t happen overnight.

And nor will it be easy.

But with belief, with a bit of extra courage we will lead the future of beverages.

Because courage is powerful!

Courage is contagious!

And it’s what we at Schweppes are made of — and have been since 1783.

Bringing Purpose to life is a courageous journey of organizational transformation.

It is not for the faint hearted; it will require sustained leadership commitment, perseverance and a belief in the potential that Purpose can yield.

Facilitators Guide to Purpose Workshop

After illustrating last week, the steps required to create the logistics requirements for a Purpose workshop in defining your team’s purpose today is centred on how a facilitator can conduct a Purpose Workshop.

The rewards are many: the contribution you make will be uplifting, the people who benefit will be grateful; and the organizational and commercial benefits will be significant.

The Purpose Workshop has three main actions:

  • Set the context
  • Run the Why Discovery Process
  • Draft a Why Statement

Now I will explain these steps in detail and suggest an approximate time frame for each:

Set the context (approx. one hour)

A great way to begin a Purpose Workshop is to bring in a senior leader, someone who is respected within the company or group and is already 100 per cent with the concept of WHY, to explain the reason the session is happening and discuss its significance. That person can also acknowledge how much time the participants are investing in the process. When we know our sacrifice or allocation of time is appreciated, we give it more willingly. The idea is to reassure participants that they have the permission to focus fully on the session.

Having an enthusiastic senior leader introduce the session will also serve to “let you in” as the facilitator. This is especially important if your relationship with the company or group is new. By opening up the session and giving you the floor, the senior leader effectively announces that the company trusts you to guide the group through the WHY Discovery process and asks to give you their undivided attention and cooperation.

After you have been introduced and the floor is yours, a great way to start is to share a short WHY story. Sharing a personal WHY experience can go a long way toward forging a bond with your audience. Whatever story you choose to tell, it should illuminate what is possible when a group is united in service to a higher purpose. It should also illustrate how a common WHY can inspire loyalty in a tribe. The story will function both as a real life link to the reason for the session – to find the organization’s WHY – and as evidence of the reward to be won by those who stay present and engage in the process.

By this point, you will have spoken for about ten minutes, depending on the length of your opening story. That’s plenty for now. It’s time to give the group the opportunity to talk. Invite everyone to pair up with the person beside them and come up with a response to this prompt:

If you think back to the time when you joined the organization, what inspired you most? What inspires you to keep coming back?

This simple exercise generates good conversation, which is just what you want. The primary purpose is for everyone to participate actively, rather than sit back and watch the workshop happen around them. And because telling stories often prompts emotional responses, this exercise is also a perfect opportunity to prepare the group for what will follow.

Sharing personal stories and identifying their themes are critical pieces of the WHY Discovery process for individuals and groups alike.

The Three Conversations

There will likely be times during this process when everything seems messy, when you don’t seem to be getting the responses you need to be moving closer to WHY. Trust the process. Remember, this exercise is more about the feeling that is generated in the room than the exact words that come out of the conversation.

You will now present the teams with a starting point for each of the three conversations. For each prompt, you will give some direction on how to engage in the conversation and then allow time for team members to discuss among themselves.

Conversation 1: The Human Difference (30 minutes)

Tell specific stories of when you have felt most proud to work for this organization

(This isn’t about money or other metrics; it’s about what you have given, not what you’ve received. Tell stories that capture what this organization stands for at its best).

Teams should come up with as many quality stories as they can (at least three) within the allotted time.

  • Stories as per template
  • Generalizations are no good. You want stories about specific people and specific moments
  • The outcome described in the stories can be big or small.
  • Headline the story to help team members recall their stories later (title and key points)

Conversation 1 is not the sort of thing people are used to hearing. So you’ll probably see puzzled faces. That’s okay. Let the group sit with the prompt for a bit. But once teams start to talk, be prepared to help them stay on track

Reporting Out: Sharing the Stories (45 minutes)

People will express how they feel in different ways; they’ll get goose bumps, animated, excited or even chocked up. Ask the storyteller to say more about their feelings or what it was about the particular story that evoked such an intense reaction.

Conversation 2: (20 minutes)

In each of your stories, what was the specific contribution your organization made to the lives of others?

Express it in the form of a basic verb / action phrase: “to (verb).”

Working in the same teams, participants should start a fresh flip-chart page and write down the verb or action phrases that capture the essence of the contributions implied or expressed in the stories about what made them proud. Before the teams begin, clarify the goals of this particular exercise by explaining that:

  • Verbs are important because our ultimate aim is to discover a WHY that is actionable, not merely descriptive
  • The verbs / action phrases should not be aspirational. This is about what people in the company have done, not what they hope to do or be.
  • The verbs / action phrases must be directly linked to one or more of the stories the team identified earlier. The link is vital. If it is missing, there is the risk that the task will turn into the type of branding or marketing exercise in which words are chosen because they “sound good.” Tell the group they must support their action phrase with a story that clearly demonstrates the connection
  • A good way to keep people on the right track is to have them try to complete the phrase “In this story we showed up and we ……ed” Tell them that the blank must be filled by a verb,
  • Since the teams will consider stories that occurred in the past, the action phrases will likely be in the past tense. However, we want to use the infinitive form of the verb –“to……” since that will help us later in the process.
  • Each team should come up with at least ten verbs / action phrases

Here are some of the verbs and action phrases from a recent workshop:


Engage, enrich, build, connect, bring together, inspire, trust, enjoy life, love

Reporting Out: Gathering the Themes (30 minutes)

Once each team has completed its list of verbs and action phrases, it’s time for them to share with the larger group. Capture all the verbs and action phrases, even if some are the same as or similar to what another team has already said.

You should now have a single flip-chart page at the front of the room showing all the verbs and action phrases that have been called out, with asterisks marking how often a specific idea has been repeated. If you stand back and look at the list, you should begin to see a number of themes.

Conversation 3: What’s your impact? (30 minutes)

There’s usually quite a buzz in the room by this point. People will have started to connect to the work they do in a different, more meaningful way. This third conversation is designed to deepen this connection.

What did the contributions of your organization allow others to go on to do or be?

(Think about how people’s lives were different after they interacted with your organization when at your best)

As people consider their responses, instruct them to refer back to their stories from Conversation 1. Again the goal here is for each team to build on its earlier stories by focusing on the impact of the contributions they described. Urge them to think about the specific people in their stories. What were those individuals able to do or become as a result of the organizations actions? Remind the group that this is not about the numbers or other metrics. What you are looking for is the larger impact, the real human impact.

Reporting Out: Capturing the Impact (30 minutes)

Now it is time for the facilitator to make an even more active role. The facilitator will need to be fully engaged, listening and summarizing. The task is to summarize in a phrase that reminds everyone of the impact and the underlying story.

For instance:

  • Building the community
  • People feeling more values and fulfilled in life
  • People seeing possibility where before they did not

After every team has had the chance to share, bring together all the output you have gathered during the session. You now have everything you need for what comes next: drafting the WHY Statement.

Draft a Why Statement (45minutes)

The next step in the process is for the group to turn the verbs / action phrases and impact statements elicited from the three conversations into a couple of possible versions of a WHY statement. We call these ‘Participants Purpose Statements’ because they will later evolve into a single draft statement that the group will carry further and refine further.

Conversation 1 and Conversation 2 correspond to the contribution element of the statement; Conversation 3 corresponds to the impact element. The words and phrases are the inputs that will fill in the blanks. In this concise WHY Statement format, we are describing the world we would like to live in (the impact element) and articulating the action we need to take to bring it to life (the contribution element).

Participant Purpose Statement Exercise (30 minutes)

Split the group into teams of about the same size. Working independently, each team will write one Participant Purpose Statement and present it to the rest of the room.

First, to write the ‘contribution’ element of the WHY statement each team needs to look at the flip chart at the front of the room that lists all of the verbs and action phrases they came up with earlier. The team members need to decide, together, which verb or action phrase seems to best capture the contribution they make as an organization. This becomes the contribution part of their Participant Purpose Statement. It’s important for them not to get hung up on the dictionary definition of these verbs and action phases. It is the feeling the words evoke that is important.

The goal for each group is to write a Participant Purpose Statement that is so inspiring that the other team will say, “Lets go with yours!”

It is vital that the statements come from the material worked up in the workshop. Otherwise, people may fall back on general aspirational language or a branding or marketing position.

To help the teams stay on target, tell them that whey will each be asked to bring their Participant Purpose Statement to life by linking it to two stories represented on the flip charts.

We want to keep this session short because we want people to go with their gut (aka their limbic brain) and not overthink it. We also like to create a little time pressure because it tends to lead people to rely on their emotions. Fear of running out of time encourages them to say, “Oh, what the heck,” and just go with what feels right.

Reporting Out: Presenting the Participant Purpose Statement

The team presentations should be short – two minute maximum per team. Each team should cover the following:

  • State the WHY (with no explanation or detail)
  • The Benefits (the HOW)
  • Link to two of the stories shared earlier in the workshop that best exemplify the WHY being lived. Doing so ensures the WHY is based on who you actually are and demonstrates that communicating your stories is a great way to share the WHY

Once teams have presented their statements, the group may overwhelmingly agree that one statement captures the WHY better than the other. In the event of consensus around ONE, that statement becomes the Draft Why Statement that the group will carry forward. Sometimes, the majority will feel that the WHY can be best expressed by combing two or more. Work with them to an agreement on a single Draft Why Statement. Remember, no one expects this version to be perfect. As we mentioned earlier, the aim of this workshop is to produce a WHY statement that’s 75 – 80 percent done. That is the reason we call it a draft – we want to keep the conversation going beyond the end of the discovery session.

Once you have arrived at the Draft WHY Statement, the teams will probably feel that there’s more work to be done. If so ask for volunteers (we’d suggest a maximum of six) who would like to continue working on the statement. These ‘WHY’ champions should come together over the following couple of weeks to try to refine the words of the WHY statement. It may take time to find the words that feel right. That’s normal. The most important thing is for the Draft Why Statement to be actionable.

Wrapping up the Session

Tell the tribe that there are two immediate things that will take place:

  • Complete the WHY statement
  • Turn WHY statement into a Story / Manifesto

The WHY discovery process generates a lot of energy. By the end of the session, any people are fired up and motivated to carry the WHY forward. Help them use that momentum. Even if a ‘final’ Draft WHY Statement has not been agreed upon, dedicate the end of the WHY Discovery session to discussing ways participants can put their WHY into practice. Here are some ideas for how to bring the WHY to life in day-to-day business:

  • Reward the behavior you want to see. When you see people acting in ways that align with the WHY, acknowledge it and praise them.
  • When you make decisions, run your thoughts through a simple filter. Ask, “Does this choice help us move closer to living in alignment to our WHY or not?” Act accordingly.
  • Be conscious of your leadership. Make it a habit to ask yourself, “What did I do as a leader today that was a tangible manifestation of our WHY?
  • Provide an opportunity for everyone in the organization to discover their own WHY and to learn how it fits within the organization’s WHY

This process is as much art as it is science. Only through experience will you find the balance that makes this process uniquely yours. The artful balance is allowing each tribe to find their own path to discovering their WHY.

Good luck and inspire on!

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