How to give your team a sense of purpose: the do’s and don’ts

Written by Kevin Murray CMgr CCMI Tuesday 20 April 2021
There are some clear behaviours that will – and won’t – unite your team as we phase back into offices and workplaces
Hands of colleagues stacked in a team huddle

Charismatic leaders have a cause; and you’re attracted to them because they are passionate about doing something that matters, something that makes a difference. Their drive and energy to succeed are inspiring. They set clear goals, which they are willing to review all the time, and they are open to looking to find ways to improve so that they can achieve their cause more quickly and more efficiently. Their passion for their cause makes them charismatic.

They have learned to talk about their cause in a compelling way. And no matter where they sit in the organisational hierarchy, they are able to connect their cause to that of the organisation. They make absolutely sure that their employees are connected as well by making sure they know exactly how they contribute. Charismatic leaders always have their customers at the forefront of their thinking, and it is for them that they want to make a difference. They are in tune with those customers, and they make sure that everyone in that team is also in tune.

They are not afraid to set stretching goals and encourage you to believe that you can achieve them. They liberate their followers to take decisions by making sure every member of the team is absolutely clear about what decisions they can and cannot make, and they leave as much as they can to the discretion of team members, confident that everyone in the team is aligned to the cause. That confidence and belief in you is inspiring, especially when a leader ensures a culture in which everyone is enabled to deliver their very best and be collaborative.

Anthropologist David Graeber argues in his book Bullshit Jobs that half of modern employment is pointless and psychologically destructive because it contributes nothing beneficial to society.
After the crisis of Covid–19, people who have been hailed for their role in keeping the country going are now more content. According to research by Brendan Birchall, a professor of social sciences at Cambridge University, farmers feel a sense of renewed purpose from feeding the nation, as do postmen and women by keeping us connected. Supermarket workers are recognised as key, care home staff and hospital porters are praised. Feeling valued and purposeful is acknowledged as crucial for contentment.

To align people to a cause, leaders need to learn how to:

  • Develop and articulate a compelling cause or purpose, and constantly drive the effort required to achieve it
  • Bring customers into every team meeting and decision
  • Align everyone’s goals to a common vision
  • Deliver autonomy by allowing people to make their own decisions based on common purpose and values
  • Develop a deep-rooted culture of continuous improvement.

After Covid, employees are more in need of a sense of purpose than ever

However, because of the huge changes wrought on society and business by the crisis, companies and managers now urgently need to revisit their purpose and their vision statements in order to make sure that what they had before the crisis is still valid now. If not, because their situations have changed so radically and their customers have changed, too, they may need to re-articulate their purpose and spend considerable time aligning their teams to it.

Without cause or drive, managers destroy a sense of purpose!

Unfortunately, my research shows that all too few managers spend any time at all creating alignment around a common vision with their teams, even though those teams believe that to be one of the most important management behaviours of all.

There are some behaviours by poor managers that, in fact, do the very opposite. Mostly because they are not mindful of why purpose and alignment are so necessary, these poor managers create chaos and confusion by some consistent behaviours that are hated by employees. There are ten bad behaviours I often see:

  1. Bad managers are never clear about their expectations, timelines or goals.
  2. They change their minds frequently and leave team members feeling off-balance and insecure. If goals look like they are being met, they’ll quickly ramp them up to higher, unachievable levels.
  3. They are myopically focused on results, and not the more motivating and meaningful things their teams do to serve customers and help people.
  4. They never bother to connect with what the team is doing, to the organisation’s mission and goals. It always feels as if the team is acting in isolation from the rest of the company, and that there is no meaning or purpose behind what they are doing. The team will feel like they are pursuing pointless goals and also feel disconnected from their colleagues.
  5. They will often give the same work to different people, causing confusion about roles and responsibilities, leaving everyone unclear about what exactly they’re supposed to be doing.
  6. They pay no attention to company or team culture, and certainly don’t live up to the values of the workplace themselves.
  7. They do nothing about poor-performing or toxic members of staff and will show little interest in constant continuous improvement.
  8. They will equally be disinterested in helping employees to grow and develop, regarding this as a waste of time rather than a way to help improve performance.
  9. They will show no hesitation in ripping off customers and suppliers at every opportunity, as anything is acceptable in the pursuit of achieving profits.
  10. They are not in the least bit interested in how their customers feel.

According to CMI research, as many as four out of five managers in the UK are accidental managers – those promoted to their role without adequate training. In the UK alone, that’s an estimated 2.4 million bosses. Imagine how many employees that affects? According to one estimate, less than half of all employees are satisfied with their manager. How many of them are feeling disengaged and demotivated? This brings with it a massive cost in lost productivity. Your chance to set these figures right comes in the form of getting Chartered – start your journey now.

This is the fourth in a special series of articles by author and leadership expert Kevin Murray CCMI, in which he examines some of the behaviours that kill trust, destroy conversations, create chaos and lead to highly demotivated teams. This article is drawn from research he did for his new book Charismatic Leadership: The skills you can learn to motivate high performance in others (published by Kogan Page). CMI members can save 20% on this book with the code CMI20.

Other articles in the series:

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