Organization & Leadership Consulting

Team Purpose and Design

a team puts their hands together

You’ve heard it before: “Form follows function”. It applies to both physical and organizational structures. It applies to systems and processes. It also applies to teams

Team Purpose

A true team needs to know its purpose. Without a clear purpose, it will make up busy work or simply take up time that could be applied to essential work. Once it knows its purpose, it can effectively shape and reshape its membership, its meeting rhythms, its workflow, its communication norms, and more. 

A clear purpose is most engaging and compelling when it addresses a matter of significance to the organization that cannot be effectively addressed with a team. Stated another way, an effective team focuses on something the organization needs that only it can provide. Very few people want to serve on a team merely for the sake of meeting. Most people want to use their time for a purposeful set of outcomes.

Definition and Differentiation 

There are multiple types of teams. There are also multiple types of groups. For clarity and traction, it is helpful to know the differences between them. For now, let’s focus on the differences between teams and work groups.  Both get good work done. Each approaches their work differently. Consider the following definitions:


“A small number of people with complementary skill sets who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” (From “The Wisdom of Teams” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, 2015)


“A manager-directed gathering of diverse people who share information and perspective on topics of mutual interest and concern; then focus on their individual purposes, goals, outcomes, and self-accountability.” (From the team at TurningWest, Inc.)

Additional means of determining if you have a team or a workgroup include:

  • On a true team, members ask each other, “What do you need from me?” or “How can I help you with that?”. In workgroups, you are more likely to hear, “I need this from you” or “That’s not my/my department’s responsibility”.
  • True teams work on priorities important to the organization that can only be accomplished by a team. Workgroups come together so their members can more effectively go back to their own groups (departments, divisions, etc.) and do either their individual work or the routine work of the organization that does not rely on true team behaviors.
  • Team members want to be together, often outside of work. They care for each other, often outside of work. Workgroup member behaviors may be professional, cordial, respectful, etc. but tend to stay at more superficial levels of relationship.

There is much more to explore when it comes to team purpose and design. Upcoming blogs will dive more deeply into several areas of this topic. For now, ponder if and when you need a workgroup or a team for whatever it is that you and your people are choosing to get done.


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