Today, we start with what I believe to be the most powerful rule for engaging a team. “You Must Have A Common Purpose.” This rule applies if you are running a team or even a facilitator trying to build a team in a workshop or a team meeting. If you focus your energy on this at the beginning, you can easily overcome other challenges that may come up along the way.


A common purpose starts with thinking about the organization, why it exists, and what it is trying to accomplish. The key here in this article, however, is to be mindful not to neglect the individuals that contribute to that purpose. Each person has a unique set of wants and desires, and whether these are satisfied or not determines their motivation. Let’s also not forget, that what people ‘do not want’ can often be a greater motivation. Somewhere in the midst of all these sets of wants and desires lies some common ground, and if your common purpose is not aligned to the needs and wants of everyone in the group, you will never have full team engagement. This is why purpose statements must be inclusive in it’s message, yet specific in its desire.


To this end, we have to answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” Most importantly, it helps to answer the individual’s question, “Why is this important for me?” Having a common purpose narrows down the host of various reasons of why people show up, and having to try and feed everyone’s unique reasons makes things that much more difficult. Is everyone motivated by the same thing? No. However, since a common purpose is an element they all share, it is helpful to keep using it as the cornerstone and guiding light.


My colleague Michael Chavez, CEO at Duke Corporate Education reminds us that an organizational purpose must also be realistic. Too broad, or too lofty, and people can’t connect to it. Check out his article here


True motivation and engagement MUST hit at the individual level first. “What is in it for me?” If people can’t make sense of this for themselves, then they will never be truly engaged. And, YES, doing it for the ‘team’ or some greater purpose is a motivator IF the individual has bought into the purpose and ‘team’ already. That is why having that purpose is key. When individual purpose and the common greater purpose are aligned, you get engagement instantly without any additional effort. The best place to find this out about an individual’s motivations is in the interview stage before someone joins a team. If you are in that classroom facilitating, try to find out why people are showing up.


The fundamental reason why some people engage quickly, and others do not, is that people need to see themselves IN the problem or identify with it. “Why is this an important problem to solve (for me or the organization)?” We’ve all been handed projects that did not make sense to us or the team’s objectives, and we tend to put a low priority on these until we can rationalize them. Making the connection to a common purpose helps with an answer to the question of “Why it is important…”. It helps people to engage quickly, while those that struggle with finding an answer may take their time until they figure something out themselves. Your job as a leader, manager, or facilitator is to help them uncover an answer to this question in the most efficient way possible.