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Uniting Your Team’s Purpose: Lessons from Jon Snow

Is your team’s purpose unclear?
Do your team members feel disconnected from the purpose?
Do goals constantly change or aren’t communicated properly?

These are pretty common problems when it comes to team purpose.

What happens when purpose isn’t clear

When teams don’t define their purpose and agree on them:

  • stakeholders become unsure of what the team stands for.
  • individuals pursue their own agendas which leads to wasted resources and efforts.
  • the team loses its collective focus.
  • members prioritise individual learning over collaborative growth. 

A clear purpose acts as a guiding star, fostering unity and synergy within the team.

Why teams struggle to define their purpose

Professor David Clutterbuck is a well-known leadership and team coaching researcher and real thought leader. (He’s so impressive, I’ve studied under him and WOW!) 

He explained to me that one of the reasons teams struggle to define their purpose is that they can’t work out at which level of aspiration the purpose should be.

Should the purpose be lofty and idealistic?

Grounded and practical?

Or a combination of both? 

The answer is to take 3 perspectives: 

  • the higher purpose provides vision and direction.
  • the grounded purpose that addresses immediate needs
  • the pragmatic purpose that aligns with stakeholders’ expectations.

Creating connections between perspectives

A cohesive team purpose is built on the connection between these three perspectives. It’s not about choosing one over the other but understanding how they complement each other. 

By embracing all three perspectives, teams can create a purpose that resonates deeply with its members and stakeholders.

Agreeing on the mission: shared purpose as a key factor

To build a high-performing team, agreement on the mission is crucial. People want to understand the ‘why’ behind their actions. They crave a sense of direction and meaning. 

There’s a reason Simon Sinek’s TED talk has been watched 27 million times. Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, Start with Why, delves into the 3 reasons why shared purpose is important: inspiring action, loyalty, and innovation.

To understand how these can be addressed, let’s look to Jon Snow. 

Jon is the heroic and principled Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in the popular series “Game of Thrones“. The show is based on a book. It’s a fantasy about noble families vying for control of the Iron Throne and dominion over the Seven Kingdoms.

Jon shows how powerful it is to have a clear and meaningful purpose that binds a team together. 

He needed to convince a queen to join a fight. To do this, he had to rally his team to go beyond the wall and capture a wight (bit like a zombie). Not an easy feat. But he did it.

How?

In 4 ways:

  1. Communicate the urgency of the mission

Jon Snow made it clear to his team that time was running out. Capturing a wight was their best chance to convince the Seven Kingdoms to unite against the Army of the Dead. 

He emphasised the importance of the mission and the dire consequences of failure.

  1. Inspire the team with a clear vision

Jon Snow shared his vision for a world without the threat of the Army of the Dead, where the people of the Seven Kingdoms could live in peace. 

He reminded his team that they had fought and bled together before. This mission was another opportunity for them to fight for a greater purpose.

  1. Build trust and respect

Jon Snow had already earned the trust and respect of many members of his team, such as Tormund Giantsbane and Jorah Mormont, through previous battles and acts of leadership. 

He also treated Gendry, a newcomer to the team, with respect and earned his loyalty by saving his life.

  1. Lead by example

Jon Snow was not afraid to put himself in danger and lead from the front. He volunteered to go on the mission himself, rather than sending others in his place. 

He was also courageous and determined in the face of overwhelming odds. This inspired his team to do the same.

Make your team’s purpose explicit

To build a purpose-driven team like Jon Snow, your team’s purpose must be clearly articulated and consistently reinforced. 

It’s more than just words on a document. It should be at the heart of every decision and action. 

Regularly reminding the team of their shared purpose creates a cohesive and motivated group. To understand your team’s purpose, it helps to answer 3 questions:

What does your team do or deliver?

Who do you do it for?

Why do you do it?

Once your purpose is defined, check back regularly. Use it to guide your decisions and stay on track. Tap into it to top up your energy and excitement, especially during the hard times.

Energise your team through purpose

As Jon Snow sacrifices for the greater good, teams should capitalise on individual strengths and find what energises each member. 

You’ll build enthusiasm and commitment by aligning personal purpose and values with the team’s mission. 

Encourage open discussions about what energises your team members. This will create a positive and motivated work environment.

Inspiring purpose through real-life examples

Some examples of purpose from the clients I work with

Coles aims to sustainably feed all Australians to help them lead healthier, happier lives.

L’Oreal endeavors to create beauty that moves the world.

and another:

Who Gives A Crap endeavors to change consumption patterns and raise funds for sanitation projects in developing countries.

And a case study to finish.

After 50 years of operation, the business and team at LTrent Driving School realised they needed to redefine their purpose to adapt to changes.

I ran collaborative sessions with executives and the leadership team until they arrived at a clear purpose: 

‘We create safer drivers through the best education.’ 

This purpose gives direction. Unity. And a shared sense of responsibility among team members.

Just as Jon Snow rallied the Night’s Watch, a purpose-driven team can overcome any challenges that lie ahead. 

Ready to redefine your team’s purpose?

LOUISE GILBERT

Founder & Director

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