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Issue 18 | January 2023

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Understanding Purpose: A Key to Multidisciplinary Team Development and Leadership

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. 

Defining 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:

  • Help the team develop a team charter. A team charter is a document that is developed in a team setting with as many of your team members participating as possible. It helps give the team direction, clarifies roles and responsibilities of team members, and sets out the resources of the team. A charter needs to clearly articulate the team’s agreed upon mission, vision and goals. The charter can be part of a protocol or memorandum of understanding (MOU), or it can be a stand-alone document. Clearly articulated goals are what might distinguish the charter from your current protocol or MOU. It is important to remember that team charters should be updated and reviewed regularly. This will help incorporate those who are new to the team into the process and team itself. For more information on developing a team charter, visit https://lucidspark.com/blog/how-to-write-a-team-charter. You can also find various samples of team charters online.

  • Create a tangible reminder of our team’s “why” that team members can see or experience on a regular basis. For example, post a quote on the wall in a case review meeting room, create a team name together and use it on team documents such as case review agendas, other team documents or even team t-shirts. You can also establish a ritual you do as a team. For instance, some teams read their team mission at the start of case review meetings. This serves to remind everyone of the purpose of not just the meeting, but the team as a whole. 

  • Make sure to recognize and celebrate team and individual achievements that help reach our goals and vision. This does not have to be formal but recognizing the contributions of individual team members to the overall team goals is essential.

  • Invite team members to participate in the agency’s strategic planning process or the accreditation process. This can help team members truly understand the vital roles that they play in the process and why we need everyone to succeed if we are going to serve children and families in the best way possible. This also demonstrates that we value each other’s input and can help build trust. 

Recognizing that MDT Facilitators play a key role in helping teams create and clearly define their purpose, Western Regional Children’s Advocacy Center and our regional partners across the country are committed to strengthening learning opportunities for those in this vital role. The 2023 National Standards of Accreditation place new emphasis on this critical role within CACs by requiring at least eight hours of team facilitation training. The regional children’s advocacy centers (RCACs) have launched two main initiatives that meet or exceed that standard:

  • Fundamentals of Team Facilitation- This virtual training covers an overview of the MDT Facilitator’s role in the CAC/MDT model, an introduction to team development and skills for building trust and safety on the team. For more information, visit https://www.regionalcacs.org/fundamentals-of-team-facilitation/

  • MDT Facilitator Peer Forums – These quarterly peer forums are an opportunity for MDT facilitators to gather with their colleagues from around the country to discuss the work they are doing with their teams and challenges they may be experiencing. Each forum starts in a large-group format to review a topic related to MDT facilitation, and then participants are placed in Zoom breakout rooms for self-facilitated, small-group discussions and resource sharing. For the calendar of peer forums and to sign up, visit https://www.regionalcacs.org/mdt-facilitator-peer-forums/.

The RCAC’s collaborative effort is ongoing as we are continuing to develop further training for MDT facilitators as they advance in their careers as team facilitators. The RCACs expect to pilot a second MDT training for more experienced facilitators in September of 2023. We believe that learning together and from one another is what helps strengthen the CAC movement across the country. For more information on all the training opportunities offered by the RCACs, please visit https://www.regionalcacs.org/training/. All of these learning opportunities are provided free of charge. 

In addition to the collaborative efforts with our regional counterparts, WRCAC is always available to offer ongoing technical assistance and customized training on topics including team facilitation, team development and strengthening MDTs. If you have a technical assistance or training request or would like more information on any of these training opportunities, please reach out to us at https://www.westernregionalcac.org/contact-us/

Joyce Prusak

Training Specialist

Western Regional Children's Advocacy Center


Joyce Prusak is a Training Specialist with Western Regional Children’s Advocacy Center (WRCAC). In this role, Joyce provides training and technical assistance focused on multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) and other issues related to strengthening the children’s advocacy center movement in the Western Region. Additionally, she works collaboratively on training and resources for MDT facilitators through WRCAC’s partnership with Regional Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country. Joyce has worked in the child advocacy field since 2007. She served as executive director of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center for over fifteen years. During that time, she also served as Chair of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Tennessee as well as interim director of the TN chapter. Joyce earned her bachelor’s degree in government from Georgetown University and her master’s degree in organizational leadership from Johns Hopkins University. Joyce spent the early days of her career life in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill and also worked on both state and national political campaigns.

[1] Pink, Daniel (2009, August 25). The puzzle of motivation. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y

[2] Allen, S. (2021, November 15). Commentary: Here's the good news about the great resignation. Fortune. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://fortune.com/2021/11/15/great-resignation-retaining-talent-purpose-driven-work/

[3] Rozovsky, J. (2015, November 16). Re:work - the five keys to a successful Google Team. re:Work with Google. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

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WRCAC is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Cooperative Agreement #15PJDP-22-GK-03062-JJVO

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.