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Does Your Leadership Team Truly Know Its Purpose?

The more volatile and uncertain your world, the more critical it is to focus your organization’s resources where they’ll best create value for your stakeholders. Yet, your business impacts a broader ecosystem of stakeholders than ever, at a time when there may be less clarity on what they need and expect.

In this challenging environment, it’s becoming more difficult for teams to define and align on their true purpose.

While it might sound strange to suggest that a leadership team would struggle to understand its purpose, the more disruptions you face, the tougher it is to identify and stay focused on your north star.

To function as a High Value-Creating Team for the benefit of every stakeholder your organization impacts, the leadership team must understand and embrace its commission: its purpose for existing. Systemic Team Coaching—a process for developing and supporting the team as a cohesive unit—can help leaders progress through the Commissioning process.

Who Do We Serve, and How?

One of the key disciplines in Peter Hawkins’ Five Disciplines of High Value-Creating Teams, “commissioning” is all about defining a clear purpose for the team and aligning it with relevant success metrics. Commissioning requires leaders to answer two questions that are easy to overlook in the midst of running the business day-to-day: Who are we here to serve, and how?

As Bill Sharpe lays out in his Three Horizons framework, leaders have a responsibility to manage the business efficiently and effectively today, while driving innovations that fuel better results in the short- and medium-term and anticipating emerging trends that will impact the organization long term. The more disruptive your environment, the more challenging it is to balance all three horizons—and the more likely the team’s purpose will become muddy or veer off course.

Systemic Team Coaching helps High Value-Creating Teams define and align on their commission, or purpose, through the lens of the “PESTLE” influences that impact any organization today: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental. The process is designed to help teams look beyond the here-and-now, and beyond their internal worlds, as they define a purpose that reflects what all their stakeholders need and expect.

What happens when teams don’t define their purpose with that wider, long-term view? The lack of foresight that led to the nuclear power accident at Three Mile Island serves as a cautionary tale. Though similar relief valve problems had occurred and been investigated at other US nuclear plants, there was no mechanism or requirement for sharing these experiences across the industry. Simply put, the nuclear power industry had overlooked itself as a key stakeholder. The TMI incident prompted the industry to take the unusual step of forming its own private regulatory organization—the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations—which made overt what the industry had come to realize: Not only are the company’s leaders, employees, and customers key stakeholders, but the entire industry has a stake in organizational success.

How an Energy Business Identified Its North Star

Consider how one company approached the Commissioning discipline, defining a purpose that became its guiding star in serving all its stakeholders. With the help of a Systemic Team Coach, the leadership team of a major energy transportation business evaluated the many PESTLE influences on its organization. As might be expected, the increasing impact of climate change and the need to adopt renewable energy sources is creating great pressure for the company to transform its business. Doing so will require massive initiatives to upgrade legacy infrastructures, invest in new technologies and capabilities, and build new facilities where they’re both technologically feasible and beneficial to the community.

To tackle this challenge effectively and move forward successfully, the leadership team needed to re-examine its commission or purpose: who it exists to serve, and how.

Through the Systemic Team Coaching process, the team stepped outside the day-to-day of running the business and took a fresh look at its commission through the lens of the PESTLE influences. To help the team define and align around a purpose that served its entire stakeholder ecosystem in a rapidly changing environment, the coaches used several effective techniques:

  • Team members were assigned to work in groups of two or three that intentionally disrupted their usual alliances and behaviors—for example, combining people who don’t interact much or who don’t necessarily get along. Moving them out of their comfort zone changed the dynamics, opening the door to different thought patterns and fresh ideas.
  • The groups role-played discussions between stakeholders and leaders, rotating roles so that multiple people had a chance to step into a stakeholder’s shoes and experience that perspective.
  • Select stakeholders were invited to the session to represent themselves during the role play, enabling leaders to hear their stakeholders’ views first-hand.
  • The coaches presented the results of an assessment that asked stakeholders their perceptions of the leadership team and how well they feel the organization is serving them. This eye-opening exercise enabled leaders to see key misalignments between what the team perceived about its stakeholders and what stakeholders actually believe and need from the organization.    

This Commissioning engagement proved fruitful and productive, enabling the leadership team to define a purpose that encompassed its entire stakeholder ecosystem and reflected what those stakeholders need from the organization. At least, for now.

Commissioning is never a once-and-done activity, because a team’s purpose changes as the world around it evolves. Systemic Team Coaching provides the structure and discipline to keep the team’s purpose relevant by continually monitoring conditions and recommissioning as needed. That’s the most effective way to ensure that leaders in today’s volatile and fast-changing world are always serving the evolving needs of their entire stakeholder ecosystem.

The Leadership Advisory Practice at Odgers Berndtson helps organizations discover and develop leaders, strengthen value-creating teams, and prepare for what’s next. Learn how our highly experienced team of assessors and coaches uses a holistic approach to help your organization achieve more.

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