Committed to a common purpose

3 min read

Yesterday I was reminiscing and it caught my attention how often I find Agile teams which have been working together for a considerable amount of time and don't know what to answer when I ask them what their purpose (or vision) is.

One of the factors which enables a group of people to become a real team is to have a significant purpose, a common challenge to solve. On the contrary, they are just people, who most likely work together, but lack a common direction.

”It is in our nature to seek purpose. But that nature is now being revealed and expressed on a scale that is demographically unprecedented and, until recently, scarcely imaginable. The consequences could rejuvenate our businesses and remake our world.”1 - Daniel Pink

To have a common and significant purpose is the pillar for a real team to establish its direction, to continually revise its aspirations and sustain inertia down the road.

Katzenbach y Smith2, after investigating the behavior of many teams, come to the conclusion that the best purposes are those which the real team is able to generate, around a request or opportunity which comes their way.

It is essential for the team to have a clear direction and well-defined competence boundaries, but with enough flexibility for members to develop and establish their purpose as a team. A good purpose is built by the members of the team and they accept it collectively as well as individually.

The groups of people that can not establish a shared and significant purpose, or that do not have the space or authority todo it, will hardly be considered a real team.

Another important advantage that a real team obtains when they have a purpose is the feeling of identity that trascends the sum of its members.

A purpose in each iteration

It is important for each iteration of the Agile team to have a clear goal to be achieved. This goal should deliver value to the business and allow the members of the team to obtain small victories in their search for a more general purpose.

Small victories help the members of the team develop a sense of commitment and overcome, or even avoid, the typical obstacles as a consequence of the lack of visible results for long periods of time.

A couple of powerful questions
  • Does the team you belong to have a purpose?
  • What would they like to achieve?
  • How aligned is this goal with the business?
  • How many of your personal aspirations are included in the purpose of the team?
  • What would you do at this moment if you knew you would not fail?
  • What would be a “successful result”?
  • What would make a big difference?
  • What professional or team achievement, would you like to remember with your grandchildren?

Photograph: Goal by Daniele Zanni @ Flickr


1. Pink D., Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, 2009, p. 144 2. Katzenbach, J., Smith, D., The Wisdom of Teams, 1993