“What is your team’s mission?” I asked the team members in the room.
They recited their mission statement, verbatim.
“Great! What does it mean?” I asked again.
What followed was several different explanations about the team’s mission. And “Oh, I thought this meant…”, “Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be…”, “I don’t think that’s part of what we do…”, etc.
This wasn’t an isolated incident.
A number of teams I have worked with over the years had a similar problem. Either team members had a different understanding of the team’s mission or, worse, they could not articulate their mission.
Another problem I encountered quite often was having mission statements that are so generic that lots of things could be considered part of the mission, or that it could easily be someone else’s mission!
If your team is not clear about its mission, how are you going to achieve it?
How to clarify your team’s mission
The team’s mission is like the team’s “North Star”. It gives clarity to the team’s direction and forms the basis for making critical decisions.
Some questions to consider
To clarify your team’s mission, you need to answer the following questions.
1. Why does your team exist?
This “why” is important: it clarifies your purpose. It articulates who you are and your motivation for the things you do.
Do you have a higher purpose than just “make more money” or “being successful”? Is your team’s purpose altruistic or self-centred? What do you live for? What are you passionate about?
2. Who is your target audience?
Who is your customer? Who are you bringing value to? Whose lives are you seeking to change? Are they internal or external to your organisation? Who is your primary audience, and who (if applicable) is your secondary?
The target audience might not be explicitly mentioned in your mission statement, but knowing who they are will help clarify your mission.
3. What do you do to live out your purpose?
What exactly does your team do? This is the main component of your mission.
While many teams (or organisations, individuals) might have a similar purpose (i.e. the “why”), the “what?” is usually unique to a team. Within a large organisation with multiple teams, no two teams have exactly the same mission.
If your team is part of a larger organisation, you’d also have to consider your relationship to the larger organisation, and how you are contributing to the organisation’s mission.
“While many teams (or organisations, individuals) might have a similar purpose (i.e. the “why”), the “what?” is usually unique to a team.”
4. What values do you bring to your target audience?
What results are you trying to bring about? What unique contributions are you bringing that other teams could not replicate?
Once you have answered the above questions with clarity, you can now say,
Because of your purpose (the “why”),
what exactly are you doing for whom, and to what result?
That is your team’s mission.
A process for clarifying your mission
Figuring out your team’s mission takes time.
If you are forming a new team, it’s best to figure out the mission before actually forming the team. After all, without a clear mission, you can’t possibly get the right people on the team.
If you are leading an existing team, you could consider the following process:
1. Find out what was the mandate for your team.
You will have to talk with your supervisor, or someone higher up in your organisation that you report to.
If the mandate is clear and specific, your mission is already defined for you. If it’s not, whatever information you can get will help shape your mission.
Even if your mandate is clear and specific, you might still have the freedom (and need) to craft a mission statement that motivates the team.
2. Think through the above-mentioned questions and draft your answers.
As the team leader, you are responsible for the team and therefore need to have some idea about where the team is going. While you’d probably like your team member’s contribution towards clarifying the mission, you don’t want to do that with a blank slate.
By thinking through those questions and writing down your own thoughts, you are in a better position to engage with your team.
3. Discuss with the team, and refine the answers.
Allowing the team to engage in shaping the team’s mission is a great way to get buy-in. The mission will affect them. If they are excited about the mission, they will give their best.
This process might take time. You might have to engage with team members, both individually and collectively, over several sessions (or months).
By engaging with the team, your aim is to clarify the mission, not to allow team members to shape the mission in any direction they want. As the team leader, you need to take charge of the direction of the discussions.
This should not be an indefinite process, though. You would have to set a deadline for deciding on the mission.
4. Have a trusted third-party critique your mission.
Having an outside person, someone who’s not part of the team and has no dog in the fight, may offer new perspectives that you miss.
Talk to someone you trust, and have the person critique your (and your team’s) thoughts about your mission. You can do this while still in the process of discussing with your team.
5. Finalise your mission.
Once you have reached some level of clarity (and possibly consensus), you are ready to finalise your team’s mission.
As the team leader, you should have the final say on what that mission is. It’s your decision, even though you’d take your team members’ thoughts into consideration.
Let team members know the mission, and have them commit to the mission.
You’re now ready to work towards fulfilling your team’s mission!
What about you?
What would you do to clarify your team’s mission?
What other questions do you think might be helpful in clarifying your team’s mission?