The Western Regional Children’s Advocacy Center has been committed to helping strengthen multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) and children’s advocacy centers (CACs) throughout the thirteen states in our region. Through our work with individual CACs as well as state chapters, we have provided technical assistance, customized trainings and resources to help teams more effectively respond to child abuse in their communities. One of the keys to strengthening MDTs is to understand how important the concept of “purpose” is to both individuals and teams as a whole.
Why understanding purpose is so important in team development and leadership.
For many years, leaders believed that what motivated employees was tangible benefits such as higher pay, commissions, or bonuses. While some people may be reward driven, the research shows us that the rewards most individuals seek are, in fact, not monetary or extrinsic as previously thought. Daniel Pink, a New York Times best-selling author who has focused his attention on human behavior, has been critical in shifting our understanding away from individuals being motivated by extrinsic benefits to more intangible rewards. Many of his writings and speeches focus on the importance of meaningful personal benefits such as fulfillment and purpose. According to Pink, individuals are driven by three things: purpose, autonomy and mastery. Today, we are going to focus on purpose.
Pink defines purpose as “service of something larger than ourselves”1. In other words, purpose is about understanding why we do the work that we do and why many of us choose to be in the field of child protection and advocacy. Purpose is also what motivates us as individuals to do our best work and do what we feel matters1. To hear Pink talk more about this concept and the other two motivating factors he identifies, take a few moments to watch his TED Talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation”.
Purpose is important to personal fulfillment because it helps us define our “why.” Why is it that we pick the career paths that we do? Why do we make the choice to be helpers? It is up to each one of us to define our own purpose and understand what matters most to us. That helps us understand our motivations and keeps us focused on making the impact we hope to make. In fact, many researchers believe that part of the “great resignation” was driven by individuals who left their roles seeking a greater sense of purpose2. Understanding if that was truly the case or what that fully means will take some time and research, but overall, it is believed that many individuals sought out new employment opportunities that provided greater personal fulfillment.
However, purpose is not only important to individual fulfillment, but to team success as well. As Google discovered during their research on successful teams, strong teams, (and in our case, strong MDTs), have a clearly defined purpose3. They also understand what impact their teamwork has and what working together can mean to the children and families supported through a CAC3. Purpose is about defining the “why” of our team. It is what drives our team and what gives teams focus. It is also core to much of the conversation we have about the importance of resiliency in teams. Purpose is what provides guidance in even the most challenging of times.
We may think that all MDTs have or should have the same “why.” Although that may be true to an extent – MDTs are meant to strengthen a community’s response to child abuse cases and ease the trauma on child and families – it is still important to define each individual MDT’s “why.” Going through the process of defining a team’s focus by creating a team mission and/or vision statement can help strengthen partnerships and help set collective goals and shared values. By having a process to develop these goals and values, team buy-in is more attainable and individual commitment to the team grows. These shared goals and values also help strengthen a team’s identity.
Helping Your Team Create a Unified Purpose
Although creating a unified purpose can sound daunting, it does not need to be. There are some easy things that we can do either as an MDT facilitator, an executive director, or even a team member to help our teams better define and understand our purpose. We can: