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Team Reasons: Determining the What/Why/How of Teams
By Rich Meiss • Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Creating High Performing Teams Series: II


Team Reasons:  Determining the WHAT/WHY/HOW of Teams

By Rich Meiss


Every team needs a reason for its existence!  In fact, it is this “performance challenge” – this reason for existence - that more than any other factor determines the team’s successful outcome.  In their best-selling book on teams, The Wisdom of Teams, authors Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith suggest that “the primary objective of a team effort must be the members’ collective performance results ….  Teams at the top indeed delivered team performance, but only when a performance challenge was particularly compelling and urgent.”


Team reasons begin with a team purpose.  The purpose statement describes why the team exists, beyond making a profit.  Sample purpose statements of well-known, successful companies include:


“To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions.”     Walt Disney

“We exist to alleviate pain and disease.”              Johnson and Johnson
“We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Ritz-Carlton Hotels


These statements are not only a slogan to be placed on the walls, but motivators of behavior in the organization.  Team purpose statements should be short (15 words or less), inspirational (motivating daily behavior), and something that everyone in the organization can relate to.  In the case of Ritz-Carlton hotels, for example, each employee is trained to stop what they are doing and acknowledge a guest when they walk by.  “Good morning, sir” is the greeting I receive when I stay in one of these fine hotels, and this is from the janitor and the maid as well as the banquet manager or general manager.  Purpose statements, done right and reinforced, motivate good team behavior.


Once a purpose statement has been defined, a team needs to think about the values with which it will conduct itself.  Values are the standards or principles by which we conduct our lives.  If the purpose is the WHY of a team’s existence, the values are the HOW.  Values should be defined, agreed upon, and then used to determine the decisions that are made and the actions that are taken on a team.


Much research supports the fact that values are a critical component to team success.  Here are some examples from popular business research:


-          In Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras reveal that values-driven organizations have an average stock return of 15 times that of the general market.  Their research tracked companies that have survived for 100 years or more with a strong set of corporate values.

-          Robert Levering, in his A Great Place to Work, shows that firms that are committed to their vision and values have a long record of besting their competition.

-          And Franklin Research and Development found that values-oriented companies were over twice as profitable as the average for the S&P 500, and that their stock grew nearly three times the rate of less value-based companies.


*At the end of this article is a resource for helping teams agree on a set of shared values.  These shared work values help teams determine HOW they will go about accomplishing their tasks and achieving their purpose.


The final element of team reasons is the vision for the team.  A vision is the longer term picture of WHAT the team wants to become.  Vision is future-oriented, and never fully accomplished.  It is aspirational, in that it pulls team members forward.  Here is an exercise that we take team members through to come up with their team vision.


“Imagine boarding a time machine and taking a ride into the future.  Picture your team or organization in its ideal state, two to five years from now.  Describe what is happening in the present tense, as if you have already achieved the desired results, and write these ideas down.  Use the following questions to stimulate your thinking:

o   “What are you seeing/hearing/doing?”

o   “What does your team (or organization) look like?”

o   “What products/services are you offering?”

o   “Who are your customers?”

o   “What is the work environment like?”

o   “What does success look like?”


As you write, be creative, and avoid judging the ideas.  The best way to do this exercise is to get the team members together, have each write their ideas individually first, and then combine the ideas to come up with your ideal team vision.  A great method is to put the individual ideas on stickies (Post-it Notes), then put them up on a wall or flipchart, and do a mix and match of ideas until you see a clear pattern developing.


Once the team vision is set, the group can then go about writing short term goals (6-12 months) to create an action plan for moving forward.  The way to set goals is outlined in the article in this series titled:  “Team Roles and Goals:  Discovering Place and Passion.”


Taking the time to establish a team purpose, values and vision will usually pay off in terms of team results.  When there is a common purpose, the team will pull together.  A story is told of a group of farmers years ago at a County Fair, betting on and cheering on their horses in a weight pulling contest.  A single plow horse was hooked to a sled, to which was added increasingly heavy weights.  As more and more weight was added, the number of horses who succeeded in pulling the sled decreased.  Finally, the winning horse was declared – he had pulled right at 9000 pounds.  As the farmers began to prepare to go home, one of them offered:  “I wonder what two horses hitched together could pull?”  His question stimulated lots of discussion, and finally the farmers with the best two horses agreed to take up the challenge.  Bets were placed on the amount of weight to be pulled, with most farmers guessing right around 18,000 pounds.  Imagine their surprise at the end of the contest, when the two horses hooked together pulled just under 30,000 pounds!  Such is the power of teams working together!


*The Personal Values Survey ($12.00) will help teams agree on a set of shared values.  You will identify your top seven personal values by responding to this important survey. Our values are one of the key motivators of human behavior.    Free shipping if you mention this article when placing your order for the survey.


Visit our web site at for information about the Creating High Performing Teams seminar.



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