High-performing teams find direction through ongoing exchange on purpose and goals


If you want to build a high-performing team, start with your purpose and goals. Purpose and goals are extremely interdependent, but they are different things and they need to be addressed individually.

Purpose is an answer to a question: Why does our project exist? What value do we create? In high-performing teams, the answer often relates to things beyond an immediate monetary reward or profit. Purpose contains something that is important, inspiring, compelling, or aspirational. It is motivational in that it contains an emotional dimension, something that you can personally relate to.

Your sales target is not a purpose – and saving the world is hardly actionable

Nothing about purpose is self-evident. It’s up to each member of a team to choose whether their individual purpose is in synch with the team’s purpose. No pre-defined mission statement will ensure this happens – which is exactly why a team’s purpose must be made explicit. A meaningful group purpose arises through ongoing dialogue within the team. If there is one key role for a team leader, it’s defining the team’s purpose and keeping the conversation around it alive. The more frequent, and the more integrated with the team’s actual work and deliverables, this purpose conversation is, the better.

This is where goals come in. Specific goals, work products, and milestones address the question What do we need to do next? And, what does success look like? Goals translate the purpose into actionable, concrete steps and outputs. A team’s purpose is its final destination, and its goals are stops along the way.

Needless to say, you need both purpose and goals! A purpose without goals, without any actionable agenda, is at risk of remaining hollow, or even inviting ridicule. Specific goals and milestones that don’t work toward answering the question “Why are we doing this?” will hardly have an inspiring or motivating effect on the team.

For more on how to use purpose and goals to build high-performing teams, including a practical tool to support the process, check out our Team Kit.