Purpose Is the Foundation for Working Human

January 24, 2020 Sharlyn Lauby

4-minute read


There are many reasons that people within organizations come together (and/or meet). The question becomes: “Do all our employees know what those reasons are?” For example, I’ve always said that there are three keys to high-performing teams:

  • They have a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) that guides them.
  • They receive training on how to be a team player. We’re not talking team building. That’s about building cohesion. Team development is about learning the skills necessary to work as a member of a team (such as consensus building, collaboration, decision making, etc.)
  • Finally, they demonstrate leadership at every level, not just from a single person.

The reason I’m mentioning the qualities of high-performing teams is because, if employees don’t know the “why” – meaning they don’t know why they’re at the meeting or what the company’s BHAG is – then how can they do their best work?

There’s a direct connection between organizational goals, employee performance, and purpose.

How to make business meetings successful

In Workhuman® Live speaker Priya Parker’s book, “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters,” she talks about the different types of gatherings that take place in business. For example, we gather to exchange information, solve problems, and make decisions.

But Priya suggests it’s not enough to simply use those categories when it comes to gatherings. When we gather with others, we need for those categories to have purpose. Here are three qualities Priya mentions in her book that make business gatherings purposeful and, ultimately, successful.

Quality #1: Specificity

Priya says the more focused the gathering, the more passion it generates. And greater the success. To establish specificity, she uses a technique called “Zoom Out” to take a broad look at the goal (i.e. the big picture) then “Zoom In” to create the specifics.

An example would be when a team is meeting to solve a problem with one of their products. During the “Zooming Out” activity, the group realizes that the product they’re working on is one millions of people rely on daily to make their lives easier. Now when the group “Zooms In” and starts discussing the details of the problem, they have the perspective they need to create specificity and stay focused on the purpose.

Quality #2: Uniqueness

This quality refers to the gathering being different from all of the other gatherings we attend. It doesn’t mean organizational gatherings should turn into contests about who can produce the coolest gathering. Although this quality does serve as a reminder that there is a reason for the plethora of banquet chicken jokes at business meetings. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Uniqueness means we need to find a way to keep the purpose of the gathering at the forefront of the conversation. By doing so, this will make the meeting unique. For instance, I once served on the board of a community organization that printed the organization’s mission on the reverse side of our name tent (a space usually left blank). The entire time we were at the meeting and discussing business, the organizational mission was right in front of us.

Quality #3: Disputable

When I think back on my experience with that community organization, one of the memories that sticks out is how we resolved differences. If we ever had a difference of opinion (and we did), the group was able to use the organizational mission to guide the conversation and lead us to a solution that everyone felt comfortable with.

Priya calls using purpose to resolve differences “disputable.” Even though all the gathering participants are focused on the same purpose, having a gathering that’s disputable allows the purpose to become part of the conversation.

Let’s go back to the earlier example of the team working through a problem with one of their products. Having a disputable gathering means as the group is making decisions, they will use their purpose (or BHAG) to guide the conversation. When disagreements arise, it’s the purpose of the meeting that allows everyone to work through the discussion. Think of it as using the goal to resolve disputes.

Better business gatherings create better results.

In creating more human workplaces, we need better employee gatherings. And gatherings get better when they have specificity, uniqueness, and are disputable. Better business gatherings allow employees to feel connected, engaged, and perform at a higher level. So, organizations that want better business results can get them by creating better gatherings.


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About the Author

Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby is author of HR Bartender blog and president at ITM Group, Inc.

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