startup business people group at officeWhat’s your team’s story? An effective team story or narrative clarifies the team’s purpose and focus – who they’re serving, to what end, and what promises they must deliver upon daily.

It creates meaning for both individual team members and the whole team.

An effective team story – intentionally crafted and nurtured – sets the context for the team’s work. It specifies what team members are striving for, together. It bonds individuals into a powerful, aligned community, working together.

Most teams don’t have an effective story. That’s usually because most leaders – of teams, departments, divisions, and companies – don’t understand why their team needs one or how to craft one. If leaders don’t create and reinforce their team’s desired narrative, individuals are left to craft one on their own.

When individuals craft their team story independently, those team members look to reinforce and value their unique skills and contributions while discounting others’ skills and contributions. Individuals craft stories that serve their unique, narrow faceted perspective.

That doesn’t create a single, aligning narrative. It creates an inconsistent, self-serving story that typically encourages individual performance and credit. It does not encourage aligned team performance and cooperation.

How clear is your team or department or company’s story today? It’s easy to test. Simply engage players – local, remote, wherever – in a conversation about your team’s purpose, it’s reason for being. Ask, “What’s our team’s purpose?”

Expect some odd looks. It’s not a common question.

The answers you get will likely be from the perspective of practicality, of results and profits. Team members will say “We print catalogs” or “We sell diabetes drugs” or “We sell cars.” They may say, “We make money – for shareholders, for owners.”

It is unlikely that you will get answers from the perspective of who you serve – of what your team or company’s products or services do to make customers safer or healthier or happier or more able to cope in their world.

Making money or finishing projects or selling widgets is a very practical and desirable outcome. The problem is that if your team makes money or finishes projects or sells widgets, there is little benefit to the individual contributor. Well, job security might be a benefit. However, keeping one’s job brings fear to the forefront of team members’ minds. That’s a negative reinforcer, not a positive one.

To inspire discretionary energy and cooperative interaction and genuine enthusiasm for one’s work requires setting a much more relevant context for team members. It requires an effective story.

To build an inspiring, meaningful team narrative, craft your company purpose by answering these three questions:

  • What does our team or company do?
  • For whom do we do it?
  • To what end? What is the outcome we strive for that benefits customers and community?

Here’s a terrific example from one of my clients – WD-40 Company. Their purpose statement is to “Create positive lasting memories by solving problems in homes and factories of the world.”

What does WD-40 Company do? They solve problems. For whom do they do it? For people in homes and factories around the globe. To what end? To create positive lasting memories. They’ve answered the three questions effectively – and WD-40 Company’s leaders do a great job of reinforcing this story with team members every day.

Don’t leave your team’s narrative to chance. Be intentional. Craft a team story that inspires, engages, and aligns team member’s heads, hearts, and hands.

What’s your team or company’s story, today? “To what end” do your organization’s team members toil? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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