Unity of purpose

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…a joint venture.

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Moving in the same direction while contributing to a greater good gives meaning to live and is fulfilling.

Peter Scholtes “Purpose tells you and the world why you exist, what business you are in and, by implication, what business you are not in. Purpose is best defined from a customer point of view.”

According to Russell Ackoff, an entity is purposeful if,

  1. it can produce the same functionally defined outcome in different ways in the same environment; for example, a person who can reach a destination by driving, using public transportation, or walking;
  2. it can produce functionally different outcomes in the same and different environments; for example, a person who can read in different environments and can write or converse in any of the environments in which it can read.

Ackoff goes on, and says:

Although the ability to make choices is necessary for purposefulness, it is not sufficient. An entity that can behave differently but produce only one outcome in anyone of a set of different environments is goal-seeking, not purposeful. Control mechanisms—for example, a thermostat—are goal-seeking. In contrast, people are obviously purposeful systems, and so are certain types of social groups.

Steps to discover your purpose and principles.

Initial steps can be taken by the whole group. Once sufficiently matured, involve your key stakeholders to refine it and get consent.

Bottom line of finding a purpose:

  • It’s gratifying to help others.
  • It fills you with a sense of meaning and appreciation.

Therefore, shift your focus to explore how you can best serve and help your primary stakeholders.

These kind of open-ended questions pull out the inner stories that people are telling themselves and help to find your purpose:

  • What brought you to this team?
  • What are you most excited about that you’ve been asked to do?
  • Why is this team important to you?
  • Personally, what do you want to get out of this team?
  • What is your story about our reason for being?

Have a unity of purpose makes live for a stable team so much easier. It is a very powerful force that unites, focuses on outcome, and slays many hurdles and blocks. The unity of purpose is part of the team charter to create a container that facilitates self-organization.

Other inspiring questions include:

  1. Make a short list of the user types or user roles that your team is servicing.
  2. Use this list to pen storm an exhaustive list of answers to these questions:
    1. What needs of the business do we fulfill?
    2. What are the goals of the business and how do we help meet those goals?
    3. What can we do to help them even more?
    4. What would please them? How can we make the other smile?
    5. Who are the people that we admire the most, and what are the qualities they possess that we would like to be known for?
    6. What do we care most about?
    7. What do we love to do, more than anything else?
    8. What are the special gifts that we can give to those we serve?
    9. What are the things that we are really proud of?
    10. What do we like to leave the world, as our legacy?
  3. Find out what matters most.
    1. Of all the items harvested in the previous step, use dot voting to select the top 3–5: those that matter most; check and refine with those you service.
    2. From the short list, and jointly with your key stakeholders, pick the single one that matters most to those who you want to help and support.
    3. Turn it into a brand click—a single, terse line that communicates the essence. E.g.
      • Volvo Off Road. When there's a will but no road.
      • The Network is the Computer.
      • Interpolis. Glashelder
  4. List all the practical ways (activities) to resolve the issues raised by these questions. Cluster and thicken them. These become your principles.
    1. Phrase them in the form “We verb noun…”. For example:
      1. We welcome change.
      2. We deliver early and often.
      3. We sustain a constant pace.
    2. Add a few lines of explanatory text to each of the principles.
    3. Secure consistency and coherence with your values.
  5. Refine, tune, and tweak with all involved until satisfied.
  6. Design and adopt a team logo or mascotte (optional).
  7. Publish it all in a terse, comprehensive manifesto (e.g. on an A3-sized paper).
  8. Live your purpose and principles—Welcome and reward initiatives that are consistent and resonant with the purpose and principles, and fuel our practice.


Create, foster and communicate a single unity of purpose, a yearning for the sea.

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Resonates intensely with fit for purpose.

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