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How to Keep Your Team Focused on Purpose, Identity and Alignment During Growth Spurts

How to Keep Your Team Focused on Purpose, Identity and Alignment During Growth Spurts
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Q: As a startup, we started as a small team but as we grew, I feel like our team's efforts are siloed and there is a disconnect. How can we boost teamwork?

A: Your question speaks to a universal challenge felt by rapidly-growing companies: As you expand, how do you preserve the sense of shared purpose and dynamism that allowed your company to flourish in the first place? How do you grow rapidly while staying nimble, aligned and consistent with your identity?

For my part, I know where you’re coming from. Over the past five years, we’ve grown our company from $8 million to $50 million on the strength of 15 percent organic growth per year and five acquisitions. With that kind of growth formula, we’ve had no choice but to make aligning our departments, cultures and business models a priority.

Related: What This Former Pro Athlete and Entrepreneur Looks for When Building a Team

Here is how we did it:

Focus on the big Idea

There will be a time and a place to get down to the more granular goals of each department. But before that, one of the best ways to nurture a shared sense of purpose and identity is to come up with one overarching theme that can inspire your team and get them to rally around your mission as a company. This big, powerful idea will transcend performance metrics and departmental goals, giving your team a broader perspective about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

Your team won’t get excited about revenue targets and growth goals unless you can forge a direct connection between those objectives and the broader impact of your efforts on customers and communities. Have you had your customers speak to your entire company and express the meaning and impact of your work on their company and their customers? Have you had your teams work together on community projects that foster cooperation and goodwill?

Related: You Can't Win Alone: 5 Tips on Building a Stellar Team

Both of these exercises create a sense of perspective and purpose that transcend departmental issues, along with serving as a reference point for rallying cross-functional effort.

Also, keep in mind that a truly great theme -- captured in a concise, memorable phrase that can serve as your company’s motto for the ensuing year -- will generate a level of excitement that won’t be held back by departmental divisions or geographic separation.

Create three aligned objectives

In addition to the one big idea, we create three top company objectives each year, then ask every department to develop its own three sub-objectives. But here’s the crucial point: Those departmental objectives have to align to the company’s top three priorities.

Related: How to Make Your Startup Team Its Most Valuable Asset

It’s more of a sense of how each department, doing its own thing, contributes to the whole. Then at our quarterly offsite meetings, department heads present to the executive staff how they performed against each of their top three objectives for that quarter, before setting three new objectives for the next quarter.

Each department is also asked to respond to four important “global” questions about the company’s performance:

  1. What do you think the company’s three most strategic accomplishments were in the last 90 days?
  2. How have we changed the field of play in our favor during the last 90 days?
  3. What three areas did we fall short in as far as executing our strategy in the last 90 days?
  4. What are the three things we learned about our strategy in the last 90 days?

The answers to these questions are seen and discussed by all departmental and executive leaders. It is a great tool for knowing if everyone is seeing the company trajectory in the same way… and it provides an opportunity for consensus building each quarter.

Every quarter, share with your entire company the progress on the big idea, the top three goals and recognize major contributors. One last piece of advice to ensure you’re creating a culture of teamwork and shared accomplishment: Make a point of holding quarterly “all-hands” meeting.  It’s also imperative to be transparent on the numbers, honestly assess the challenges and celebrate the victories.

Related: 10 Guiding Principles for Growing a Startup Into a Business That Will Last