Today’s workers want to know that they’re working for something deeper than a paycheck. Leaders must tap into that desire in order to achieve effective collaboration in the workplace.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, in 2019, U.S. employees spent an average of eight hours on the job on weekdays and 5.42 hours on weekends. OECD data recorded 1,767 hours of work per U.S. worker for that same year.
That’s a lot of hours working. So it’s no surprise that employees want that time to mean something. Research by people-experience firm BetterUp, as published in the Harvard Business Review, found that 90% of people are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for more meaningful work. But what exactly is meaningful work?
Purpose versus meaning
Companies hire people to perform specific jobs, and each job has a purpose:
- Content creators make content to sell a product or engage their target audience
- Software developers build user-friendly tools for busy, multitasking workers
- Customer service professionals handle complaints and help people find value in products or services
Meaning is different: It’s why people show up for work. It’s different for everyone, but it’s the driving force that compels them to do what they do.
How to cultivate purpose and develop shared goals
Almost everyone has a personal purpose. Not to be confused with job purpose, this is an ideal that’s bigger than themselves and guides their choices. Whether it’s to build rich friendships, give back to others or solve complex problems, that motivation helps people find focus and meaning in life. If you can fulfill your purpose at work, that’s a win-win.
According to research by McKinsey conducted during the pandemic, people who said they were living their purpose in the workplace had five times higher well-being levels than those who weren’t. They were also four times more likely to show higher engagement.
This can be a good thing for organizations. According to the same McKinsey research, 70% of employees say work defines their sense of purpose. Meaning, leaders can help employees “find their purpose and live it.”
In an essay for MIT Sloan School of Management, writer Meredith Somers unpacked management expert Nicholas Pearce’s The Purpose Path, a book on aligning daily work with life work. She found four ways managers can help employees discover purpose in their work:
- Show, don’t tell. Model the values and behaviors you want your employees to practice, including talking about purpose.
- Know that managing is different from leading. Managers focus on the numbers: productivity, budgets and time. Leaders connect and engage with employees in human ways.
- Have difficult conversations. If an employee decides their job is no longer right for them, work with that person to transition. It’s better than getting half-baked efforts just for a paycheck.
- Set good values early. Foster a purpose-driven culture right at the start. According to Pearce, “Having warm bodies but having the wrong bodies is worse than growing more slowly.”
Instilling a sense of shared purpose
Complex systems like hospitals require employees in many different roles, from doctors and nurses to technicians and janitors. They all have different jobs, but they share a common purpose: save lives, treat patients and enhance their quality of life.
There are a few ways to rally your troops around a shared purpose.
1. Articulate your organization’s purpose
A 2020 report by Edelman found that 80% of respondents expect brands to “solve society’s problems.” Research by Ernst & Young identified key pillars to activate organizational purpose:
- Align leadership around your company’s goals. Purpose begins at the top. Actively involve leaders in the entire process.
- Engage employees in the purpose journey. Help workers recognize what’s meaningful to them, then encourage them to connect that to the company’s purpose.
- Embed purpose in your customers’ experiences. Canva, for example, aspires to “empower everyone in the world to design anything and publish anywhere.” The platform helps even non-designers create professional-looking designs.
2. Leverage testimonials
Ask clients and customers to give teams a shoutout or share powerful success stories. For example, students who earned scholarships from telesales, or bank clients who got out of debt through low-interest loans. Success stories are powerful reminders that companies exist to serve customers and can give back in the process.
3. Eliminate silos
Tech leader Alok Tyagi says in a CIO.com piece that organizational silos encourage conflict and kill morale. He found that adopting the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) methodology was more effective than annual “check the box” goal-setting. It unified the employees in the organization around shared goals, allowing them to “innovate and make a quantum leap on behalf of [their] customers.”
How shared purpose drives collaboration at work
Collaboration takes many forms, but all good collaboration involves teammates working toward the same goal or purpose.
- “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” In 1970, Apollo 13 suffered a near disaster when an oxygen tank exploded on the shuttle’s way to a moon-landing mission. NASA teams collaborated to bring three astronauts safely back to Earth.
- In 2020, doctors, scientists, engineers and researchers worldwide banded together for one goal: end the Covid-19 pandemic by accelerating vaccine discovery. In 2021, millions have been inoculated.
- Today, as more of us work remotely, access to information is critical to finishing tasks on time. Collaboration tools like Slack allow everyone to post timely (and nonlinear) updates, share essential files and work across multiple, virtual, purpose-focused channels.
How to drive effective collaboration
According to the polling institute Gallup, modern teams are complex, with roughly 84% of U.S. employees being “matrixed,” which means they belong to multiple groups and report to various bosses. To drive successful cross-team collaboration, especially remotely, leaders need to:
- Clarify expectations. Establish a culture of open dialogue between managers and employees.
- Connect everyone’s jobs to the bigger picture. When team members understand how their roles contribute to the overall goal, they’re more likely to engage.
- Emphasize that remote work is all about trust. Give employees the confidence to work together as a team by instilling accountability.
- Foster inclusive and personalized collaboration. Remote-employee needs and expectations are different from those in the office. Ensure remote workers feel included with a range of communication tools, access to management and team expectations that cater to remote and in-person collaboration.
- Embrace conflict. Conflict is a byproduct of collaboration, especially on high-performing teams. Encourage productive conversations. Build a culture where everyone can share ideas freely without fear of judgment.
Collaborate over a shared purpose to skyrocket team productivity
Everyone has their own purpose. When we can live it at work, we’re more likely to find meaning in our jobs.
Shared purpose is everyone’s common “why.” When made crystal clear and leveraged to the fullest, it boosts engagement, fosters good team collaboration and drives business growth.
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