Discover Your Organization’s Purpose in Half a Day

By and originally published on LinkedIn.

“Have you ever been in those dreadful meetings with endless discussions about the vision and mission statement of your organization? Where you try to find consensus and end up with complicated and dull sentences?”

The good news is that organizational purpose can be discovered in half a day. Through Integrative Decision Making you have a written down purpose at the end of the workshop. This is a 3 step approach that you can apply in your organization or team:

  1. Invite meaningful data in the room.
  2. Sense the meaning of the words.
  3. Apply Integrative Decision Making

Step 1: Invite data in the room

Most often, you rationally think about the mission and vision of the organization. The approach proposed here is radically different from what you are used to:

“Listen to the organization as a living system with a sense of direction of its own”.

Instead of thinking about the organization we listen to what the organization wants to be. There are two proven methods for inviting data about organizational purpose:

Creative source mapping is a powerful method to go back to the creative source of the organization. The inquiry is “What brought this organization into being and how has its purpose evolved over time?” In other words what was the founding vision? By looking deeper into the roots of the company these questions are addressed: “What was the original need, vision or purpose of the founder?” , “Why was the organization started and what did the founder want to achieve?”.

The empty chair is a practice where someone from the organization is invited to embody the organization as a whole. From the moment the person sits down on a chair that person represents the organization. By asking leading questions such as “What is the contribution the organization wants to make?” or “Why does the world need this organization?”, the person on the chair answers as if the organization has its own voice.

Because the information that is shared comes from a place beyond ego it is often deep and inspirational and has a high level of clarity. For example, one representative in a workshop talked about the loss of human energy and materials in the construction industry because people fail to collaborate in a positive way. This gave the organization a key insight for their purpose centered around tranforming the construction sector through improved collaboration.

Step 2: Sense the meaning of the words

When all data from the creative source mapping and empty chair methods are gathered and put on the wall, the people in the room are invited to sense which words or phrases are part of the purpose.

Because this task is done by a group of people you make use of the collective intelligence of the individuals.

In this way, a pattern of purpose words will appear. It helps to group them on the wall in three columns:

1.    Why we do it

2.    What we do

3.    How we do it

“What we do” is the core of the purpose. By asking “Why do we do it?” you enlarge the purpose answering to what end and by asking “How do we do it” you contract the purpose answering by what means. Repetitively asking “Why” will bring you closer to the essence of your organization’s purpose.

Writing draft purpose statements

Frederic Laloux states in his book Reinventing Organizations that purpose refers to:

On the basis of our current context and the resources, talents, and capacities at our disposal, the products or services we offer, the history of the company and its market space:

1.      WHAT is the deepest potential the organization can help create in the world?

2.     WHY does the world need it?

The next step is that each individual in the room gets six colored sticky dots. Everyone is asked to place 2 dots per column behind the words that resonate most with the person. Note that this is again a sensing exercise instead of an exercise where you have to think about the right answer. The result of this exercise is that certain words show up to have more dots than others.  Exactly these words per column form the proposal to bring to the Integrative Decision Making process.

Step 3: Apply Integrative Decision Making

This final step truly sets this approach apart from more traditional ways of writing mission and vision statements. This process will ensure a clear and tangible output of the workshop. You will not look for consensus and no hierarchical decision will be made.

Instead a middle way is used called Integrative Decision Making. This method is used in Holacracy to resolve proposals in governance meetings. In this case the purpose statement is the proposal. One member of the organization is asked to become the proposer of the purpose statement. Through very concrete steps the proposal can be clarified and amended. The purpose is accepted when there are no objections left.

The newly discovered purpose is not static and can be adapted at any given moment. Instead of repeating a purpose workshop, people in the organization can just bring up their tension around the purpose at any given moment. The Integrative Decision Making process will help resolve the tension by integrating what needs to be changed. In such a way the purpose evolves over time. This is “sense and respond” in action and by that you have entered a new organizational paradigm.

Wendy van der Klein helps organizations discover and realize purpose. Purpose-led companies put purpose before profit. They have lower staff turnover and increased productivity. People working for these organizations are more engaged, creative and happy.

Republished with permission of the author.

Featured Image/graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.