Without common purpose we as leaders are beholden to the ebbs and flows of cultural tides, dysfunction and mediocrity. The common trap we fall into is assuming that we have common purpose. It’s easy to launch a project, an idea, or a company, and start plugging away with an energetic dynamic team in which a clear strategy has been discussed and agreed-upon, yet all the while being completely unaware that the underlying purpose is not shared equally within the team.
While we may have different ideas about how to approach a situation, our differences are not necessarily a problem in the sense that we are all infinitely creative and unique, and we will approach our work with our own style and perspective. If there are ten people who are on a team together and decide to get themselves from New York to Los Angeles, their common purpose is to travel from one specific point to another. Some may fly, some may drive, some may take a train, but they are all united in the common purpose of reaching a particular destination. Even if they all decide to drive, their cars are all different as well as their driving styles. Some may want to barrel through, driving night and day, while others will take a more relaxed pace. Yet again, the purpose is the same.
It’s when the purpose is not aligned that we will find some people going along for the ride, while not caring too much about the destination. If they’re not aligned with the common purpose they won’t be fully in the game, and if they’re not fully in the game they won’t be watching out for potholes, roadblocks and detours so much. They also won’t necessarily pay so much attention to how the car is running or how much gas is in the tank. That means that the rest of the team will have to carry the added weight of responsibility and project ownership.
This is when resentment and dissension develops, soon to be followed by dysfunction and mediocrity. The answer is to align with purpose, preceded by clearly distinguishing the purpose, rallying the troops to that purpose, and when necessary, providing a respectful way for those not aligned with the common purpose to exit the team with grace and dignity.
Commonality of purpose is one of the most important ingredients that distinguishes a team from a mere affiliation. Even when there are differences of opinion, with a common purpose the team will always find a way to rise above their differences and achieve greatness.