The importance of purpose in the workplace

You know how even the simplest difference of opinion at work can turn into a drama that drains your energy and leaves you wondering whether you’re speaking the same language as your colleagues?

What’s really happening here? How can we get past it?

We spend much of our time working with very different, multicultural workplace teams – now all in a remote setting – and we’re struck by how often someone says: “This isn’t what we’re trying to do here, so why is she still talking about X?” or: “He just doesn’t understand what we’re trying to achieve” or “They’re focusing on the wrong things, and it’s slowing us down.”

In a previous post, we talked about the three biggest culprits behind everyday conflict: generalisation, deletion and distortion. These three things cause us to ‘bend’ what’s happening in front of us to fit our pre-programmed view of the world. We generalise other people’s behaviour to assume that they ‘always’ react like this or that to certain situations (and maybe they do, but why?!). We subconsciously delete from our minds the evidence in front of us that doesn’t support our beliefs about the person, and we don’t even know we’re doing it. And we distort situations to fit what we THINK we just saw, even though there might be more (or less) to it.

It’s that ‘he’s out to get me’ mindset that we sometimes slip into when we’re insecure. It might show up as your boss not reading your emails (because they don’t like you), being talked over in a meeting (because they don’t respect you), being left off of a meeting invite (because they don’t want you there). These are all things that can be completely meaningless and merely coincidental but if we’re in the wrong headspace can all act as corroborating evidence to support our insecurity – ‘they’re out to get me!’

So what’s behind the conflict and team ‘disharmony’? First, we have to recognise that we all have different starting points and perspectives and nothing will change that. We all see the world differently and we approach problems very differently. But it’s more than that – team disharmony is often about a lack of shared purpose.


Purpose – what is it?

Before we dig into a team’s shared purpose, we need to recap what it means to understand your individual purpose. Merriam-Webster’s defines purpose as: the aim or goal of a person, what a person is trying to do, become, etc. Over time, from person to person, this often varies.

Think of it this way: when you first leave education for the working world, you’re often driven by money over everything else. By your late 20s you may be driven by status, you chase the promotions, the pay rises or switch to work for better, bigger, cooler companies. By your mid to late 30s and beyond you start to reflect, perhaps asking yourself ‘what should I be doing with my life? How can I do something more fulfilling? Is this really it? Shouldn’t I be doing something a bit more meaningful?’

Your purpose is something that you feel compelled by and exist to do. It’s unique to you and once you’ve worked it out, it helps you look at your job differently and look for the potential within it. What fires you up, what do you connect with? And, crucially, how does that translate at work when you’re surrounded by colleagues and a job to get done?


Where are you with ‘purpose’?

Now let’s look at the impact of your own purpose on contributing to team purpose. Discovering our individual purpose brings a natural injection of energy and makes our work more meaningful and engaging. It helps us ‘reframe’ how we work and tackle tasks with more vigour and energy. After that, for a team to work effectively together, it’s critical to establish their collective purpose. It’s this shared vision that gives the team direction. If we’ve invested in learning what makes each team member distinctive and identify the unique difference they each make, this will be easier. Every organisation should do it, because it affects team behaviour, team dynamics and the team’s results.

We like to talk about the Team DNA Wheel. It defines and distils the team’s desired values, strengths and differentiators and they will ultimately influence the team’s collective identity. This is about personification of the team brand, what the team stands for and how to move from who members are now towards who they want to be as a high performing team. We must shape, sculpt and craft the team in order to galvanise each member and inspire them towards a shared way of ‘being’ within the business.

Doing this work will help to reduce team disharmony and any sense that the team is somehow ‘dysfunctional’, as long as you’ve also spent time identifying each team member’s personal working style and unique stress triggers. But that’s a topic for another post!

So next time you feel tension in the team or with your colleagues, ask yourself - what’s your purpose, and how is it affecting how you behave, collaborate and come across to others at work?

To learn more about how Symbia’s approach to uncovering individual and team purpose, send us a message:


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