Clarifying Purpose : A light and easy way for a diverse group to quickly surface a purpose, with alignment!

Clarifying Purpose : A light and easy way for a diverse group to quickly surface a purpose, with alignment!


1. Purpose as the invisible leader

As we move to more participatory ways of working, shared leadership, or collective governance, working with clear purpose takes on even more importance. I am not just talking about the purpose of the organisation, but the purpose of a partnership, a meeting, a project, a policy, a process, and so much more. Purpose goes hand in hand with organisational life and we often just assume what it might be. Tensions and conflict can arise when alignment of purpose is missing. When the purpose is clear, people can rally behind it, self-organise based upon it. Clear purpose changes everything because it creates the conditions for autonomy to flow and thrive.

“Everyone shares a collective responsibility to make purpose explicit, to keep it on track and up to date. You can forget about blindly following rules and procedures, tasks and orders, and connect with the why behind things. Purpose is less a goal than an essential practice that drives non-hierarchical ways.” – from Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time, by Samantha Slade (Berrett Koehler Publishers)

Clarifying purpose doesn’t have to be long or painful. Our company Percolab is a lab trying out new methods and we fell upon a fabulous way to clarify purpose that is light and playful. We have been using it for years, internally and with clients and multi stakeholder initiatives. Over and over, people say, “so simple and yet so powerful”. There is real appreciation for how in such a short time we can generate alignment and acceptance, even with a group of diverse people. No matter how participatory your organisation is, this practice will be useful for you. Clarifying purpose is simply about working well together. Discovering this quick and easy-to-use method, can create real impact on your work space.


2. A light and easy way to clarify purpose

So let’s discover the process. Beyond the usual wordsmithing and lengthy debates, this method helps to clarify purpose with smiles and even laughter. It involves a little warm up, to be able to access our intuitive knowledge around purpose and also to get us out of our love of perfection and our hesitations. A word of warning, the process might feel awkward or silly, because our concept of productivity has become so narrow. Rest assured, you will get rich results in just minutes. More than that, it is highly inclusive and creates belonging.


Here are the steps:

  • Preparation : Everyone has 3 sheets of paper and a marker.
  • Warm up #1 : Pick an object (not work related) and everyone takes 20-30 seconds to write the purpose of the object on a sheet of paper. No overthinking, just the first thing that comes to mind.
  1. When everyone has finished. Have a go around where each person shows their answer and reads it outloud. No need to explain it, just keep the flow going.
  2. Ask if anyone needs any clarifications. Was there something that was unclear ?
  3. Ask if there are any objections to any answers that were provided.
  • Warm up #2 : Repeat with a new object.
  • Round #3 : Repeat with a real work-related purpose. Remind people to stay light and connected to their intuitive intelligence.
  • Afterwards Invite everyone to place their papers from the final round somewhere for all to see as a visual reminder while you work.


Clarifying purpose

What is the purpose of this gathering? Four of the many answers participants provided at an international gathering. All answers were considered valid by all.

3. Transforming systems by clarifying purpose

Small practices can create huge transformation. In this case, there are three ways that this little practice of clarifying purpose is creating ripples into the way we work.

Productivity with wellbeing

A more holistic approach to productivity can get results while taking care of our wellbeing. We are not machines, but human beings. We have so much wisdom and potential and it is underutilised when we have a narrow approach to productivity or try to get to the single right answer, as if that existed. When we bring in more creative processes that help us tap into our inner wisdom, we work better and more efficiently. We are being present with ourselves and able to tap into our strengths and potential.

Diversity and collective intelligence

We are better, stronger, and wiser together. With this method we reconnect with this truth. In fact it helps us to honor our own particular contribution, and perspective. We can feel the acceptance of our unique input and can see the value in having a different answer than our colleagues. After all, we are different people holding different parts of the whole. When we put our different ways of thinking together, it is rich, more complete, it covers the parts that was in each of our blind spots.

Complexity and coexistence

Often when we think of mutual agreement, there is an assumption that we have narrowed things down to one single answer or way of saying something. However, complexity is about different perspectives being able to coexist alongside one another. When we experience this, it helps us reconnect with this idea of peaceful coexistence and well-being for all.

It’s not that surprising how well-being, diversity, and complexity are all part of a good practice of clarifying purpose.They are all part of healthy collaboration. The more the purpose is clear the more we can allow autonomy and trust in how we go about doing things. The more we learn to work well with purpose the more we create the conditions for autonomy and trust to thrive.