Most management theorists and leadership experts agree that high performing teams are built around a compelling and engaging mission (sometimes called a vision or purpose). This mission is the core purpose for the existence of the team and dictates the team’s methods and goals. As Jim Collins suggested, “[A mission] provides guidance about what core to preserve and what future to stimulate progress toward.”

 

In my experience, there is somewhat of a difference between an organization level mission and a team mission. One of the key differences is that a team mission tends to encapsulate the daily operation of the team, whereas an organizational mission tends to be more aspirational and less descriptive.

 

Team leaders often have difficulty creating a team mission statement that is more than just describing the team function, for example, a technical support team might state, “the tech support team solves customer problems”. The problem is that while an accurate description of the team’s function, it does nothing to motivate or rally the team, and so doesn’t reserve as a team mission statement.

 

One approach that I’ve used with teams is a fill-in-the-blanks model to capture all of the key elements of a compelling team mission statement. The results can be a little awkwardly worded, but in most cases it’s a superior approach to beginning with a blank piece of paper.

 

Here’s the template:

The __ (team name)__  __(emotion)__  __(name of customers served)__ by __(services delivered)__ with/by __(unique style/characteristics/values)__. This __(benefit to company)__ while __(benefit to team members)__. Our unique mission can be summarized by our motto: __(cool motto)__!

 

Here are a few examples of a complete version:

The customer success team thrills XYZ Corp customers by developing deep relationships, sharing best practices, and delivering training with passion and excellence. This builds strong partnerships with customers while providing a challenging and people-centered work environment for team members. Our unique mission can be summarized by our motto: We create raving fans!

 

The Bug Stompers energize users of xyz software by beating industry records for bug-free product releases by running holistic quality assurance processes with an obsessive attention to detail. This promotes XYZ Company’s reputation as an industry leader and promotes frequent word of mouth recommendations and an enviable Net-Promoter score! Team members participate in building and delivering a world class QA process and gain valuable insights into product development, engineering and UI/UX design allowing them to advance their careers in many different directions. Or unique mission can be summarized by our motto: No bug survives!

 

As you can see, the model doesn’t specify style and tone, or even length.

 

Filling in the blanks gets you to a complete draft, meaning that all the elements are there and the essence is accurate. All that is left may be to refine the language to be a little punchier – but it’s really up to you as to whether you do that or use the more raw version.

 

Let’s take a look at the elements in more detail.

 

Team Name This is an important element of building team identity and is acknowledged by many organizations as key for teams. Recently the US Marine Corps deliberately named an elite team and Google’s specially formed anti-hacker task force was given the cool moniker, ‘Project Zero’.

 

Emotion Listing the emotion we create for customers is both aspirational and motivational. It gives team members something to strive for and also allows a team to identify what winning looks like.

 

Name of customers served Naming the specific customer we serve (internal or external) creates alignment and clarity for the team’s mission. Identifying the customer means that we fully understand who benefits from what we do and who we should be seeking first to please.

 

Services delivered This is perhaps the area that most teams have the best handle on – what they do. Restating it in the mission allows a team to be complete in its description, ensuring that no aspect of value the team provides is neglected.

 

Unique style/characteristics/values High performing teams have a particular way of doing things. This can be expressed as a signature style, a particular characteristic, or some core values of the team. Batman does it with dark broodiness; AntMan does it with chirpy optimism. What’s your unique style?

 

Benefits to company Companies form and fund teams because of the benefit they provide. Identifying how the team contributes to the company’s mission provides context and meaning for team members.

 

Benefits to team members People expect more than a paycheck, so listing the benefits to team members reminds everyone what’s in it for them. This can also help the team leader to ensure that this promise is being fulfilled.

 

Cool motto Team mission statements can be a little long and unwieldy. A succinct motto serves as a catchy shorthand to remind team members of their mission with just a few words. Latin optional.

 

As mentioned above, this fill-in-the-blanks template created a ‘complete draft’. Your wordsmithing efforts might include restructuring and expanding – a process which might go on for several months. But in the meantime, you’ll have the essence of what you want to say, even as you go about refining how you want to say it.

 

List of resources

Great article by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras on vision

List of emotions (surprisingly helpful)

One of the best team mission statements ever written (although not written in the same format, can you spot the elements listed above?)