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The Hidden Power of Purpose for Teams

Shared purpose is a powerful tool for team thriving and effectiveness. Just like your body’s connective tissue provides the framework and support structures for your muscles, bones, organs, joints, and other tissues, a deeply-held purpose is akin to connective tissue for your team.

A shared purpose aligns your team members toward a clear mission of success, giving the team a strong sense of collective identity and coherence. It adds meaning and significance to your team’s work. It contributes to healthy team bonds, happy and engaged team members, and a positive work culture. Plus, an inspiring shared purpose energizes people on your team to accomplish something worthwhile together that they cannot do alone.

A Shared Purpose has a Hidden Power—Yet, It May Not Be What You Think

A shared purpose is one of an array of essential factors for building a team that thrives by design, not just by chance. (You can access in-depth insights about the other essential factors for a thriving team here.) When your team actively uses a purpose to steer its decisions and actions, that purpose has a hidden power which is more important than ever: It is an existential fuel to help people stay cognitively flexible, emotionally balanced, and connected during the toughest of times.

In that light, a shared purpose is foundational to team wellbeing and resilience.

With the many challenges facing humanity some of your team members likely arrive to their work fatigued and overwhelmed. Frankly, it’s easy to get stressed-out when things all around us feel out of our control. While stress itself is an important part of human thriving and growth, stress that’s pervasive, cumulative, and chronic will erode the vitality of your team and the people in it.

Worse yet, we are collectively transmitting our stress to each other through social media and other digital means like never before; researchers hypothesize that “this new dimension of human experience, from which it is difficult to escape, is driving stress, chronic inflammation, and cognitive impairment across global societies.”

How does this stressful environment impact your team? When people on your team are experiencing a relentless, low-grade stress, they are more likely to become mentally and emotionally less flexible. They may tend to stick to what they know, for example, rather than update their ideas about people and circumstances even when they have new information. They may have a hard time switching between different ways of thinking and adapting to new situations. They may polarize their thinking and decisions into “us” versus “them.” And, they may get stuck in cycles of worry, anxiety, depression, catastrophizing, or rumination.

All of these are normal responses of not feeling internally well-resourced to handle the very complexities and demands people face on every level.

An Antidote for These Stressful Times

Think of a shared purpose as part of the antidote. When people on your team truly plug into a mission that matters to them, they’re more apt to operate from an open mind and heart, rather than stress or fear.

Why? Because the act of sharing a purpose is a force of connection: Connection with others, a connection with something greater, and connection with self.

This kind of authentic connection can bring the human nervous systems on your team into a healthy, co-regulating balance. A shared purpose creates a common ground for transcending personalities, reinforcing inclusion, engaging in healthy conflict and collaboration, and growing as people and professionals; it doesn’t just influence the work we’re doing, it influences how we treat each other.

When people are part of fulfilling a shared purpose, they realize they aren’t facing the stresses of the world (or the team) alone, but instead, are part of achieving something meaningful together. There is also a protective effect; purpose in life and work helps people sleep better, live longer, enjoy more robust immune systems, and buffer stress.

This is true even when people are thrown into a crisis. When Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno and his colleagues surveyed people impacted by the 9/11 attacks, they found that those reporting a sense of purpose were more likely to remain resilient in the following 18 months. Their purpose, it seems, helped them grow through the ordeal, rather than be defined by it.

If you’ve gone through any personal trauma, such as a health issue or loss of a loved one, you likely know this through personal experience. Having a sense of purpose can transform suffering into a path for living life more fully and well.

A Shared Purpose Helps Your Team Navigate the Fray

When we’re chronically overstressed, we’re hardwired to become reactive and even impaired in our thinking and decisions; yet, we’re also hardwired to thrive and grow.
Think of a shared purpose as way to help your team navigate the fray. With this in mind, ask yourself:

  • To what extent does a shared purpose guide my team? If your answer is “not much,” then set up time for your team to discover a purpose that matters to them. Explore what this team can do together that they cannot do alone and the positive impact they want to make as a team. Make sure everyone can contribute their voice and wisdom to this exploration. It will likely not be a one-time event; it’ll be a series of conversations that help people on your team get clear about their purpose for working together, plus enable their work together to be rejuvenating.
  • Is our team’s purpose helping people effectively manage their stress, energy, and performance? If you aren’t sure, then ask! Frequently, the simple act of asking this question is illuminating. Plus, inviting the team to reconnect to a shared purpose on a regular basis will go a long way in fostering team resilience and wellbeing.

Of course, if you want support on this journey of developing a thriving team, please reach out. Our team at Wisdom Works stands ready to assist you as we’ve done with thousands of teams, leaders, and brands around the globe. You can also check out our latest insights about the essential factors of a thriving team, including the power of shared purpose, here.

A Shared Purpose Invites Us to Become Better Humans

A shared purpose can help us reinvent our teams and institutions so that they are more agile, regenerative, and effective.

Yet, I think embracing an inspiring purpose together is part of an even deeper shift: It calls us to become better humans for ourselves, for each other, and for our planet.

It’s one of the greatest privileges of my life to work with other human beings on something beneficial and worthwhile. Our purpose at Wisdom Works is a world where all people thrive. This shared purpose guides and energizes our partnerships with leaders, teams, and organizations enabling us all to contribute to positively transforming how people live and work around the world.

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