In my last post, I described General Stanley McChrystal’s four principles for making organizations more nimble and responsive. This week, I want to take a deeper dive to explore how I believe these principles translate into practical advice for leaders looking to build effective teams. First up: Common Purpose.

Common Purpose is the grand challenge or mission that every member of the team shares. Any organization, regardless of size, can and should have a common purpose (or mission). The “must do” for a leader is to frame a common purpose in a manner that is clear, and that touches the organization’s heart, mind, and soul – because at our best, human beings seek to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

So how do you know that it’s working? At its best, a common purpose is the magic that transforms “me” to “we.” Case in point, I remember an “a-ha” moment I witnessed many years ago on a youth soccer field. Parents were arriving early with their children for the first day of practice, with their new shoes and their very own soccer balls. The moments leading up to practice were utter chaos. If you have children, you know the drill. Kids were kicking their respective balls everywhere, each with their names written on them so no one could confuse “their ball” with anyone else’s. And hell hath no fury like a kid whose new ball has been kicked by someone else – even a sibling!

But then something magical happened. The coach pulled up in an SUV, threw an equipment bag over one shoulder and a soccer net over the other, nodded to the parents and proceeded to the end of the field where he placed the soccer net. Without saying a word, every child on the field turned and faced the net, and began to kick every ball into the net, regardless of whose name was written on it. Once all of the balls were in the net, they jumped up and down, high fived each other and celebrated as if they had won the World Cup – together.

So what happened? Common Purpose in action, that’s what happened! The leader made it clear (without speaking a word) what success looked like. Once the talented young players saw the goal, they focused their collective energies to achieve the outcome. Over the course of the season, they honed their skills, learned structured plays, and found the best positions for the right talent, but all in service to the same common purpose that was established at that first day of practice.

The power of a common purpose applies to every organization. At Intuit, every employee comes to work each day bonded by a common mission: to improve our customers’ financial lives so profoundly, they could never imagine going back to the old way of doing things. Intuit’s mission (common purpose) was defined more than 30 years when the company was founded. Over the past three decades, a lot has changed in how we innovate to deliver on that mission, moving from era of DOS to a fast-moving, cloud-based, social and mobile world – but always in service to that common purpose that was established at the founding of the company (our first practice).

The idea of a Common Purpose is a simple one, but one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. If done correctly, it moves a team from “me” to “we.” It puts a stake in the ground for how the team will collectively be evaluated. It empowers everyone to bring their best innovative ideas and thoughts to the table in service to the broader mission. And through the journey, it brings the best out of everyone and the organization, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This post also appeared on LinkedIn. Follow Brad Smith on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/

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