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Explaining Mission and Purpose to Every Team Member

Explaining Mission and Purpose to Every Team Member

In the most simple terms a team’s mission describes its fundamental purpose.  A “purpose” here is simply “an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides current planned actions.” In other words, we need to have a clear “Mission” (why are we here) before we can know where we are going (a “Vision”).

In the long-running hit TV series “Star Trek,” the Mission of the star ship “USS Enterprise” was to “Seek out new life and new civilizations” and the “Vision” was to “Boldly go where no man has gone before.” Hence, in this enterprise, everyone aboard the star ship could be clear that they would be travelling to the far-flung corners of the galaxy and trying to learn about new people (or life forms) that they encountered.

A mission statement is worth very little to any team if it fails to inspire and challenge every employee to invest his or her time and energy into working together, or to pull in the same overall direction. Everyone has to believe that the mission is reasonable and not just empty rhetoric. Leaders therefore need to ‘walk the talk’ by setting an example for all employees. They should not therefore merely talk the mission, but become a role model or example for everyone as they live it every day. Don’t forget, the mission should describe the purpose of the team or the reason for the existence of a team or a unit or a group.

The following 7 attributes provide a quick guide to writing and using mission statements:

  • It can vary in length (short or long but no more than 25 words)
  • It must be clearly articulated (easily understood, pithy, to the point and free of jargon)
  • It should be written in an inspiring tone (encouraging commitment and energy from all)
  • It should be relevant and current (echoing history, culture and shared values of the present)
  • It must reflect the organization’s uniqueness (setting the team apart from others)
  • It must be enduring (guiding and inspiring for many years)
  • It should cater for all audiences (conveying the message clearly, concisely and strikingly)

Communicating the Mission

It is so easy for any organization to busy itself with daily activity oblivious to its future, without reflecting, and without having developed and communicated a sense of purpose.  Without this the team could lose focus and control.  Here are a few things that you can do to develop a strong mission: 

1. Get the Team’s activities in context

Organizations with a clear mission have an enduring character that transcends all other things like products, bosses, management fads and technological breakthroughs.

2. Understand the contributing factors

In the book “Built to Last” James Collins and Henry Porras identified three components that contribute to the articulation of a mission:

  • The core values – the 3-5 guiding principles important to those in the organization.
  • The core purpose – the organization’s reason for being, its raison d’être.
  • A desired future – a clear, compelling, unifying and enduring statement that distinguishes your organization from others, a catalyst for team spirit (this is the “Vision” of course but it is built on the mission).

3. Identify core values that must be followed

Only a few values can be considered as ‘core’ – those that define what you stand for – and are likely to be meaningful and inspirational only to those in the organization.

4. Identify key goals and purposes

Core purpose captures the soul of the organization – why it exists.  Though the purpose does not change, it inspires change.

5. Picture and describe a desired future state

This picture of the future serves as a unifying focal point of effort and acts as a catalyst for team spirit and inspiration.  Though the mission needs to be visible, vivid and real, it communicates unrealized dreams, hopes and aspirations.  The mission needs to stimulate and spur forward momentum.

6. Articulate your direction in many different ways

Paint a larger picture with words by bringing together all your reflections about core values, purpose and the desired future, to create the ultimate vision – the big picture.  As it describes what it will be like to achieve the mission, the description should attempt to be vibrant and energizing and capable of arousing passion and emotion.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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2 Comments

  1. Janet WightmanNovember 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Hi Jon
    I have just been putting together a session on how leaders can ensure their teams have clear direction and this article was a useful piece to read
    This is the first time I have used your blogs,but will definately add it to my favourites.
    Kind regards

    • Dr. Jon WarnerNovember 29, 2012 at 8:19 pmAuthor

      Many thanks Janet.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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