Dr Amy Climer

Episode 38: The Power of Purpose

A strong sense of purpose is one of the most powerful elements impacting a team’s creative success. In this episode hear what the research says about team purpose, as well as stories from my personal life where the power of purpose has been important.

What You’ll Learn

  • How team purpose impacts a team’s success
  • Two elements critical to a team’s sense of purpose

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

Invite your team to talk about their purpose. At your next team meeting, ask each team member to write down on a Post-It Note what they believe is the team’s purpose. Hang each on the wall and gather around to read them. What do you notice? Is there alignment or confusion about the team purpose? Then, facilitate a conversation to clarify that team purpose, if needed.


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Hi everyone. Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 38. In today’s episode, I am going to talk about the power of purpose. A sense of purpose amongst a team can have an incredible impact on that team’s success, whether they are trying to be creative or not. I am going to share with you today some of the research around purpose and the impact that it can have on your team.

First of all, purpose has many other names that essentially mean the same thing in this context. It could me your sense of why, like why are we doing what we are doing. It could be the direction that you are going. Where is the team going? It could be the real reason you are going in a certain direction. Like what is this really about? It could be your vision, your mission, you could think of it as your true north, your compass. What is the purpose of what you are doing? Usually, most of the work we are doing we are trying to implement some sort of change. So what is it that you are trying to do? What change are you trying to implement? That is the purpose of your team.

What I have found in my consulting practice is that not all teams know what their purpose is. There are some teams, and I will ask then point blank, “Hey, what is the purpose of your team?” Some teams can just answer right away, “Oh, this is our purpose.” And they can say it in a sentence or two, which is awesome. You should be able to explain your team’s purpose in less than one minute. Other teams seem kind of confused by the question. They ask me back, “Do you mean like our vision or our mission statement? What do you mean when you say our purpose?” And they are looking around at each other, there a couple of people making a few attempts, but ultimately, they struggle with defining what their purpose.

If you do not know where you are going or why you are doing it, it makes it very hard to go anywhere. Especially as a team, because you are trying to ideally go somewhere together. So if you are all a little unclear about where you are going, it can just be some fun wandering around, which might be fun if you are in a brand new city and have a day to kill and you are like, “Oh, let’s see where we go.” But it is not so fun when you need to get something accomplished as a team. So having a clear sense of purpose from a practical perspective is very helpful.

How Team Purpose Impacts a Team’s Success [03:14]

Let’s talk about what some other research says. By the way, of course, as always, I will put links to the research in the shownotes and you can access the shownotes at www.climerconsulting.com/038. In 1987 there was this study by Pinto & Prescott and they looked at 418 project managers to look at what were the critical factors of success over the life of a project. What they found was only one of the ten factors they examined was critical for each stage in the project lifecycle. And that factor was team purpose.

There was another study done in 2004 by Pearce & Ensley and they also found that shared vision, a sense of purpose, and both product and process innovation in teams of an automotive plant had the biggest impact. They found that when that shared vision or that sense of purpose was collectively created, it increased innovation and that was innovation determined by managers, team members, and customers. But then what happened is as they had more innovative success, that reinforced their sense of purpose, which drove more innovation and more success, and it was this pretty amazing cycle. Pearce & Ensley proposed that teams with the clearest vision generate the greatest levels of innovation. And they were not the only ones.

Two Elements Critical to a Team’s Sense of Purpose [04:48]

So we had that study in 2004, there was one earlier I mentioned from 1987, and then there was a meta-analysis, which is a study that looks at all these past studies. This meta-analysis was done in 2009 and found eleven studies researching vision on team innovation, and the results showed that vision had a strong and positive relationship with innovation. That there are two components of that vision or of that purpose that were important for a team. The first was shared goals, and the second was team commitment. So let’s talk about that.

I think of purpose, anyway, as kind of this high-level like what is it that we are working toward, what is the big picture goal, the big picture vision that we are looking at. But then underneath that, you have all these smaller goals that you are trying to accomplish in order to get to that main purpose. That sense of why, that vision that you are working on. So teams need to have shared goals because that makes it easier to work together. But the challenge is, you do not want the goals to be too specific or too narrow, because then it impedes creative thinking. So there is this tension, this pull that teams need to deal with, and it is having goals, but not having them be super, super specific. You still want to have some leeway with reaching those goals because that is where the creativity and innovation can come in. Now, if you are not trying to be creative, which is okay you do not always need to be creative, then, of course, having more specific goals might be more helpful for the team.

There was this great study done by Larson & LaFasto that they published in a book called Teamwork that came out in 1989, and it was just this little skinny book. In their research, they looked at 75 high-performing teams and they interviewed the leaders and the members of the team. They were looking at incredibly high-performing teams like teams who were working on a NASA space shuttle launch, teams that won the Super Bowl, teams at a very high level of government and the White House. They identified these incredibly high performing teams that just had impressive results. They interviewed the leaders and the members and wanted to see what were the commonalities amongst these successful teams. What was it that helped to make them so successful?

What they found was that unified commitment to the team was huge. Having that strong sense of team commitment and the shared goals, those two things led to a strong sense of team purpose. They found that at every single team that they looked at. Which I think is pretty impressive if you can find one factor, one common factor amongst 75 teams, wow! And that was it. The commitment that they saw from the team members came out in the form of team spirit, there was dedication and loyalty, there was excitement and enthusiasm, but most of all, there was a strong identification with the team, and a willingness to work hard to make the team succeed. So that dedication really led to motivation, and that motivation is really what helped the team succeed. Motivation by the individual members.

But they also pointed out that challenge of balancing individuality with team commitment. You do not want everyone on the team so focused and dedicated that they are just all thinking alike, and they are not bringing in their individual style. Obviously, you want that. You want that individual input because that is what is going to make the team rich. That diversity is really important. So if you have too much of that group think, then you are not going to have any innovation and you are just going to be a bunch of robots all doing the same thing together and that is not necessarily a good thing. But if you have too little commitment, you end up having some analysis paralysis. Because the team members are trying to sort out their competing needs and there is not a sense of joint purpose, of shared purpose in the team.

One of the things that I want to point out is that lack of team commitment is not necessarily based on an unwillingness or apathy towards the team or towards the purpose, but I have seen sometimes it is just based on ambiguity. It goes back to what I was saying at the beginning where sometimes I ask teams what is your purpose. And they struggle and they cannot really answer it. It is not because they do not want to answer it or they are not being flippant, they just are not sure. So there is that sense of ambiguity. I think Patrick Lencioni does a great job of explaining this in his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He says that ambiguity is really what gets in the way of commitment more than anything. And I absolutely agree, and I have see it time and again in teams that I have worked with.

So when team members are unclear about what the shared purpose is or those goals or a specific task they need to do, it just makes it difficult to commit. It is like well, I am not really sure what I should do so I might not do anything or I might wallow a little bit or I might do the wrong, and it is not about unwillingness, it is just lack of clarity. So as a team leader or as a team member even — you do not even have to be the leader to do this — but as a team member, one of the things you can do is try to push that clarity.

If you are in team meetings, if you all are talking about something, at some point you can paraphrase something I talked about that in Episode 17 where I talked about the Seven Norms of Collaboration. It can be very helpful to have somebody paraphrase the conversation that just happened to say, “Okay, so it sounds like what we are going to do is head in this direction and these are the two things that we are going to get done.” It is just this summary that is going to provide a crisp, succinct sense of like yup, here is where we are going. It is going to give some clarity. That could be a really powerful thing that any team member can do. It does not have to be the team leader. So try that out at your next meeting. See if there is an opportunity for you to summarize, and I would be curious to see what impact that has. Does that increase team commitment and does that help your team create a stronger sense of shared goals? Again, in developing that team purpose, shared goals and team commitment are very important in developing that sense of team purpose.

My Personal Perspective on the Power of Purpose [11:48]

I want to just talk about something from a bit of a more personal perspective of how having a strong sense of purpose has helped me in some of the work that I have done. So I am going to go back 15-16 years ago when I was getting my master’s degree. I was in class one day and my professor was this amazing person named Dan Garvey. Dan was in class and he was telling us a story about when he got his PhD many years before. Dan finished his PhD faster than anyone else ever had at the school that he was going to. He finished his PhD in three years, which is very fast. Most people take four, five, maybe six, seven years, but I would say four, five is pretty standard. So anyway, he finished his PhD very quickly, and he was explaining how it was that he did that. He was not saying this as a way to brag or, “Oh yeah, look how great I am,” no, not at all. Instead, he was just trying to help us understand that having a clear sense of purpose was key. That was how he was so successful in finishing, is that he said he went in, he knew exactly what it was he wanted to study, he found a school that was a good fit for him, and he was so focused on his purpose. He knew why he was doing what he was doing, and he kept that in the forefront the whole time.

He is telling us this and we were all master’s students, and he said, “If you do decide to go get a PhD in the future, make sure you are very clear about what it is you want to study, and that you are passionate about it, and it is something that you love.” And here it is, 16 years later, I still remember that. I had thought many times in my life that maybe I did want to go get a doctorate degree. I do love learning and I love the intellectual aspect of school, but Dan’s advice stuck to me. It took me ten years from the time I finished my master’s to the time I started my PhD and that was because I was developing a sense of clarity. I was developing a sense of purpose of what was it exactly that I wanted to study, and did I even want to go and get a doctorate degree. I mean, I was not set on that I had to do that.

I finally decided to, and as many of you know, I am nearing the end — hopefully will be done in a couple of months — and it has been very hard, as you would expect, right? They do not make the doctorate degrees easy on purpose. But the biggest challenge is not that it requires some high level of intellect or… that is not it at all. The biggest challenge has been sticking with it and has been perseverance, and making decisions that keep me focused and keep me moving forward with school. Because there are so many distractions, I mean you all know that even if you are not in school, there are just distractions in life.

I went in specifically wanting to study creativity and I have been able to stick with that, and that is what has kept me motivated this whole time. It’s just the excitement of learning more about creativity and creative teams, combined with leadership and change and all those pieces together, all the things that I talk about in this podcast. I will say there has never been a moment where I wanted to quit. I have never thought about quitting the PhD program. There were times where I thought maybe I should just take a leave of absence of a while. There have been tears, I will admit, but that focus kept me going and that purpose kept me going.

When I look at the leaders that I see who I really respect, and Dan Garvey is one of them, I see people who are driven by a strong sense of purpose. And they have sort of this guiding light in them that is helping them make decisions. They have a clear sense of what their values are, and they are making decisions based on their values. I think that can be incredibly powerful for teams to do as well. In fact, exploring your values and creating a list, like what are the things we really value? Can also be really powerful for teams to do together.

Another place that I have seen this purpose play out in my life is in my business. Those of you who know me may remember that in 2009 when I started my consulting business, I was all over the place. It would have taken me five minutes to explain what my business was about. Because I had all these different things that I love doing and that I was competent and capable of doing, but it really took me a while to hone in on this purpose of leading innovation in teams. And that is what I focus on now, is helping teams be more creative and be more successful in the work they do. I really believe that amazing teams can change the world, and I think there are loads of examples of that in our history and in our everyday lives. So if teams can be creative and have a strong sense of purpose, and if they work really well together, wow! That can be amazing. And that is what I focus on, is helping teams get to that point.

It also is what keeps me motivated. I meet people all the time and they ask me about my business and how did I start it and sometimes they just say, “Oh gosh, I could never be self-employed. I would be watching soap operas all day, or I would never be focused. I would clean the house or do all these other things.” Sometimes yeah, sometimes I get distracted. Absolutely, I spend a little too long at Facebook over lunch or something, but for the most part, I would say my strong sense of purpose keeps me motivated and keeps me focused.

The Weekly Challenge [18:06]

Your challenge this week is to talk with your team and find out what do they think the purpose of the team is. I would say, at your next team meeting, just do a quick go-round and ask everybody to say what is the purpose. Or better yet, have them write it down on a Post-It Note and put those up on a wall, and then everybody can just go stand up at the wall and see what the posted notes say. It is too easy if you do it verbally that the first two people have it really rough, but everyone else is just going to repeat what they say. So that is the value of having everyone write it on a Post-It Note, stick it on a wall, and then you can have some really rich conversation about what is our purpose as a team. From there, depending on what you come up with, you may even decide to take some time to identify what your values are. Because those values can really lead to some clarity when you are trying to make tough decisions.

Again, team purpose is one of the guiding factors for success in teams, whether they are trying to be creative or not, but it definitely impacts teams that are trying to be creative and to have a clear sense of purpose. And two important proponents of that are shared goals, and team commitment. I think if you do have that conversation with your team, and you put the Post-It Notes up and you talk about the team purpose, underneath that, what are the goals? What are three goals that you all are working towards as a team? Everyone should be able to articulate that. I think having that in writing in a place that team members regularly see could be really valuable. That could be digital. I am not saying you have to like hang it up on the wall or… I mean, you can, but I think it is hard to remember even three goals sometimes, and so having a visual of that can be really helpful.

I hope this conversation was helpful. Just a quick conversation about the power of purpose and the impact that it can have on a team. Thank you so much for listening to The Deliberate Creative Podcast. If you have not yet, I would welcome and be so thankful if you would go over to iTunes and write a review. I would love to get your feedback. Also, if you have recommendations or requests for topics, please let me know. I welcome those. You could send me an email. Or if there is somebody that you would really love to have on the show as a guest, let me know. I will send them an email and invite them on the show, or maybe you can do an introduction.

Thank you so much for listening. I hope this was helpful. I hope this gives you some ideas for how to increase team purpose amongst your team. Have a wonderful week, and I will see you next time. Bye.

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Rave Reviews

  • Amy Inspires Creativity Growth in Everyone
    January 5, 2022 by cjpowers7 from United States

    Amy Climer’s show helps all of us grow our creative muscles. She is authentic and cares about her listeners. Amy empowers us with tools that work in the office, training sessions, and our communities. The best part is her ability to make what feels out of reach, something that can be accomplished with simple steps forward.

  • A great way to get inspired!!
    March 8, 2021 by binglish from United States

    Love listening to Amy’s podcast! Her guests are awesome and conversations are full of inspiring information.

  • A must for people who want to think better
    May 26, 2019 by Dhensch from United States

    Amy Climer hit a home run with this podcast and continues to get hits with every episode. I was hooked with the first one and binge-listened to the four solo episodes about the Creative Problem Solving process. Her knowledge of the subject of creativity and innovation is incredibly deep. And, she makes it easy for others to learn and apply. I have listened to other "expert" podcasts and Amy's is different in that she holds nothing back. Episode after episode offer practical insights, tips and tools. She has a generosity of spirit that is contagious.

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