Discover Your Team’s Purpose with Questions

Guest Post by Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. and Julie Davis-Colan, M.S.

Cheryl Johnson was a client of ours when she was a leader at Fossil, a watch manufacturer and lifestyle brand, and then at Ulta Beauty. Now she is chief human resources officer for Paylocity. A discussion Lee had with her illustrates the importance of team purpose. They talked about how connecting to meaningful work ignites a personal passion to go the extra mile.

Cheryl was reflecting on one of her first jobs during college—as a dishwasher in a hospital. Interestingly, she didn’t see her job as that of only a dishwasher. Most people would wallow in the mundane task of washing dishes, but Cheryl’s boss painted a picture of something much more significant.

On the first day of work, he told Cheryl that her department’s purpose was “to help ensure a clean, healthy environment so patients could heal as fast as possible and go home to their families.” And it was Cheryl’s role to contribute to that purpose by keeping the dishes clean. Wouldn’t you be more passionate about washing dishes if that was your purpose?

No matter how large or small your team, healthy leaders define a compelling purpose for their teams. The most important motivational question a leader can answer for his/her team is, “Why am I doing this?”

Sometimes articulating the answer is difficult because it requires a deep look at your business. For example, at one customer call center, the purpose is to provide a fair solution and brighten the day of every caller.

A technology department’s purpose is to improve personal productivity. No matter what it is, a compelling purpose must create positive meaning in employees’ lives. You must also keep your compelling purpose real and relevant, since people can commit only to what they understand.

A purpose is your team’s bridge to a brighter, more connected tomorrow. Healthy leaders build bridges between each job and the team’s purpose. Before you spring into action, keep in mind that a project goal is not the same as a purpose.

Neither is a financial target nor a strategic plan. Most (non-sales) employees will not get emotionally charged up about a 10 percent net profit, a 20 percent return on investment, or a 30 percent increase in market share. A true purpose is a reason to be excited about getting up and going to work every day.

Involve Your Team

As a leader, it’s powerful to involve your team to help define or refine the purpose. And you can bet, if your team is part of the process, they will be more engaged and committed.

Work with them to answer these questions:

Why do we exist as a team? Since people tend to respond with what they do—their  function—rather than why they do it, keep asking why, why, why? This will help reveal the core purpose of their work.

How does our team’s purpose make you feel? If you hear responses like “proud,” “important,” “connected,” “helpful,” or “like a winner,” then you’re on the right track. If not, then ask, “What is missing?” or “What is a purpose that would make you feel excited?”

Does our purpose make you look at your job differently? What can you change or do
differently to better support our purpose?

Discussions about these questions will help your team work more purposefully. Today’s worker
is more focused on purpose than ever, so engage them to find meaning in their work and in your

Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. and Julie Davis-Colan, M.S.


Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. and Julie Davis-Colan, M.S. have been encouraging and equipping leaders for healthy growth since 1999.  Lee is an organizational psychologist. Julie is a corporate health strategist.  In addition to advising CEOs, between the two of them they have authored 15 leadership books that have been translated into 10 languages. Learn more at


Reporting Questions

Guest Post by Bobb Biehl Once your priorities (measurable problems, goals, opportunities) are clear, these...

13 CEOs Share Their Favorite Job Interview Questions

Interview questions: Everyone has them. And everyone wishes they had better...

15 Astute Questions To Ask Other Leaders

Guest Post By Indeed Editorial Team Previously posted at  Questions to Ask Leaders for Career...

Is It True?

Today - one day before Good Friday and 3 days before Easter - may I share with you the story of "3 Questions"...

Key Insights From “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”

Guest Post by Artem Gurnov Growing as a leader means constantly challenging yourself to help raise your team...

Questions for Your Next Daddy-Daughter Date

Men, if you have been blessed with a daughter then you know that there is something really special about the...


Excerpted with permission from the 3rd Chapter of “Uncommon Greatness: Five Fundamentals to Transform...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.