Handbook for Effective Collaboration – Creating Shared Expectations – CLARITY OF PURPOSE

Clarity of Purpose.

  • Why are we a team?
  • Why have we chosen to work together?
  • What is the work before us?

How many of you have participated in a group or on a team where the purpose or objective of the group was unclear?  This uncertainty my even have remained following a number of meetings.  A critical question answered by any group or team has to do with its purpose or objective(s).  I am continually surprised at how many groups and conveners of groups remain unclear on this question.

A basic reason for the formation of any team is:

  • The pursuit of mutual purpose,
  • Because of the potential for mutual benefit or mutual gain, and

Specifically there is a belief that we can achieve better results by working together on an issue than by working on the same issue independently.  The first task of any group is to clarify the basic purpose for choosing to work interdependently.

The pursuit of mutual purpose is best achieved when teams are organized to engage in shared learning.  This is the fundamental function of any team and should permeate the clarification and pursuit of a team’s purpose.

One framework for assessing the purpose of a group is to consider the following four basic functions of a team:


  • Evaluation and Input:  The function of the team is to evaluate, assess, and/or study an issue.  The purpose may be to increase shared understanding of a complex issue and/or advise another group in their problem solving or decision-making.  These groups are often referred to as “advisory”.
  • Recommendation:  In this context the work of the group is to pair evaluation and input with a specific recommendation.  In many cases this recommendation is advisory in nature.  In other words the decision may not be final but rather provided as a recommendation to an individual or group that will make the final decision.
  • Decision-Making:  The purpose of the group in this situation is to take an issue from exploration and evaluation to recommendation and ultimately to final decision.
  • Action/Implementation:  In this context the group is tasked with taking action in support of implementing a decision they have reached or one that has been assigned to them.

Following Implementation we may loop back to Evaluation.  These functions may be pursued independently or as an interdependent set of activities.


Questions for Clarifying Purpose

Sample Questions 


  • Who or what convened the group


  • Are you a self-convening group?  Have you identified or shared purpose?


  • If you are a convened group, what is you relationship to the convening authority?


  • What are the convener’s expectations of the team?


  • What are your team’s expectations of the convener?


  • Is there an external mandate?  Is the work of the team defined by Policy? Procedure? Legislative mandate?


  • What are the required or expected outcomes of the team’s work?


  • How do the answers to these questions inform potential action for your team?


  • What additional information do you need in order to proceed effectively as a team?


  • How will the team get this information or seek greater clarification?



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