[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
Just as organizations get bad results when they are disconnected from a greater purpose, so do teams. In our consulting work, we have often observed that when teams don’t connect with their organization’s greater purpose, motivation and productivity suffer.
Team disconnection from organizational purpose often contributes to one of the greatest internal dangers an organization can face: the creation of “silos.” Silos are isolated groups of workers that end up competing for resources rather than collaborating for the greater good. As teams build the walls of their silos, communication between them diminishes or gets funneled through leadership, sometimes erupting into unhealthy conflict.
When teams don’t connect with their organization’s greater purpose, motivation and productivity suffer.
For example, we’ve seen Information Technology departments that are so focused on keeping their organization’s technology secure that they neglect to think creatively about providing tools to ensure the organization can efficiently achieve its greater mission. Instead of working together with those who are trying to innovate, they may constantly shut others down with worries about security. At the same time, other departments operating in their silos may resent the Information Technology department because they don’t fully understand how tech security functions and see them as a barrier to innovation.
A team’s purpose will never be identical to its organization’s purpose because it will inevitably have a unique function within the organization. Given the specific priorities and responsibilities of each team, one of the most effective ways to prevent silos from forming is to ground each team’s purpose in its relationship to the overarching purpose of the organization. If you are a team leader, you can use the following three questions to begin these conversations:
- What is the work of your team, and why does it matter? In the same way that organizations need to move beyond discussions about what they do, teams should also have a clear sense of the relevance of their work.
- What would be lost if you didn’t exist as a team? This question is essentially the flip side of the first. We have found it useful because some people find it easier to understand purpose in this way.
- How are you contributing to the work of other teams and the organization’s purpose as a whole? This question emphasizes what your team can provide to the organization rather than focusing on how it can get its own needs met. When each team focuses on contributing to the whole rather than competing for resources, the result is increased energy and synergy.
These questions provide clarity and meaning for teams while aligning them with the overall purpose of the organization. When teams identify with organizational purpose, they commit to the welfare of other teams and the organization as a whole.
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