In Agile Coaching, Team and Leadership, Thought Leadership

Last month I wrote about team norms, or working agreements as I prefer to call them, and how they relate to the work of Dr Richard Hackman.  Team norms fall into Hackman’s enabling structures which are one of three enabling conditions that support effective and high-performing teams based on Hackman’s research.

In this blog post, I will discuss one of the three essential conditions that Hackman identified need to be present to enable high-performing, effective teams, and this is a compelling purpose.  Essential conditions sit above enabling conditions and without the essential conditions being present enabling conditions are ineffective.

Key aspects of a compelling purpose

A compelling purpose is a central element in creating and sustaining high-performing teams. It is the North Star that guides a team’s efforts and unites its members toward a common goal. Several key aspects of a compelling purpose as identified by Hackman are:

  1. Clear and Inspiring: A compelling purpose should be crystal clear and inspiring. It must communicate the team’s mission and goals in a way that motivates and excites team members and answers the fundamental question, “Why does this team exist?”
  2. Meaningful to Team Members: The purpose should be meaningful to team members on a personal level. It should connect with their values and beliefs, making them feel that their work has a purpose beyond the mundane tasks.
  3. Challenging and Ambitious: A purpose should challenge the team to achieve something significant. It should set high standards and push team members to stretch their abilities, fostering a sense of accomplishment and pride.
  4. Specific and Measurable: A good purpose should be specific and measurable. Team members should be able to understand when they’ve achieved it, and progress towards the purpose should be quantifiable.
  5. Aligned with Organisational Goals: The team’s purpose should align with organisational goals and contribute to the organisation’s success and mission, ensuring that the team’s efforts are not in isolation but part of a larger, coherent strategy.
  6. Enduring and Stable: A compelling purpose should remain relatively stable over time. Frequent changes in the team’s purpose can lead to confusion and reduce motivation. It should provide a consistent sense of direction.
  7. Owned by the Team: The purpose should not be imposed from outside but developed collaboratively by the team. When team members have a say in defining their purpose, they are more likely to be committed to achieving it.
  8. Regularly Communicated: Effective communication of the purpose is vital, it should be reinforced regularly to keep it front of mind and ensure all team members are aligned with it.
  9. Supports Team Autonomy: A compelling purpose should guide without being overly prescriptive. It allows the team to have autonomy in how they achieve their goals, fostering a sense of ownership and creativity.
  10. Serves as a Basis for Evaluation: The purpose can be used as a basis for evaluating performance. It provides a standard against which accomplishments are measured.
  11. Fosters Team Cohesion: A well-defined purpose can serve as a bonding agent, bringing team members together and creating a strong sense of identity and belonging.
  12. Adaptable to Changing Circumstances: While stability is essential, the purpose should also be adaptable to changing circumstances. Teams may need to adjust their goals to respond to evolving situations.


A compelling purpose is a vital element in team effectiveness and is one of Hackman’s three essential conditions for team effectiveness and high performance. It should be clear, meaningful, challenging, and measurable. It should align with organisational goals, be owned by the team, and be regularly communicated. Importantly, it should serve as a source of inspiration and motivation, guiding the team’s efforts toward success.

When I work with teams, I facilitate a purpose or vision session with them, and often it forms part of the same session in which we agree on our team norms and working agreements.  When creating this purpose, I like to build it up of three layers, what is in it for me, what is in it for my team, and what is in it for the organisation.  However you choose to create one do it sooner rather than later and set that North Star for the team and inspire them to get out of bed in the morning and have a consequential impact on the world.

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