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Guide to Facilitating an Effective Purpose Discovery Session

Posted on Categories Conscious Leadership, Organizational Change/Alignment, PurposeTags

Creating a purpose statement is an intense endeavor.

It takes quite a bit of time, energy and patience, because purpose is a wholly new idea for most leaders. Shifting to this way of thinking about your organization takes courage and openness. It also takes a well-crafted process that creates conditions where new mental landscapes can open up and where deep reflection is welcomed. 

The purpose discovery process is often populated by meetings and brainstorms. The room is filled with executives eager to come up with new ideas and a powerful statement. The anticipation is palpable. To harness this energy, and apply it toward your intended outcome of a compelling purpose statement, takes skill and preparation. When you step into the room to lead your group, it’s wise to consider just how you will create the right conditions for discovery and discussion to unfold.

  1. Level the playing field 

Get your entire team all together in one place. Don’t create conditions where someone is in an odd-one-out circumstance. If you are doing this in-person, get everyone in one room, and make sure they each have the same tools in front of them. One guy with a computer is distracting and will pull focus. If you’re conducting the sessions online, make sure each person has their own computer for your online meeting. When you let two or more people gather in a room on their own, they have side conversations that don’t contribute to the group dynamic.

  1. Create ample time and space 

You need sessions that are long enough, and frequent enough to allow for all the thinking, feeling and sensing to occur that brings the team to a new creative field. You’ll need longer than an hour-long meeting to dive into a purpose conversation. Block off at least four hours for the first day of discussions. While this may seem like an unrealistic chunk of time for your leadership team, understand that anything less may result in the same outcome you’ve always had — a statement that sounds like everyone else or that sounds like the old story you’re trying to get away from.

A long day doesn’t mean inherent drudgery. Add in ample breaks so that people can disconnect and allow their subconscious to meld ideas and conversations. The way you pace the day with prompts and conversations, which we’ll get to in Consideration #6, will also help four hours fly by, while still getting the meat out of the conversation.

  1. Start and end with a check-in 

Give each meeting a human starting and ending. Before you jump into content, or “the business,” let each person arrive and speak to the room. Let everyone check in, sharing what may be on their mind, what may distract them and what they are excited about. By doing so, you infuse the room with each person’s presence, and allow everyone to be seen and heard at the start of the day. It’s also a low-stake engagement to start with, allowing everyone to warm up their voices and their capacity for reflection.

Use a check-out at the end of the day to signify the transition from meeting to the real world. Check out how the experience of the day was for everyone. What did they learn? What did they find surprising? And see what their expectations are for the next steps. What’s weighing on their mind, or what are they curious about, as they move out of ideation and into the rest of their day? These answers can help you as a facilitator design your next session (if there is one) or to address any concerns that may take the process off the rails.

  1. Set expectations for showing up

When everyone has arrived at your session, it’s important to let them know what is expected of them while they’re in the room. Create shared agreements for using technology, for the level of sharing that’s desired and for how people are expected to listen. There may be even more things you want your group to commit to, like sharing from personal experiences only or removing instances of a specific word from the room. The group may want to come up with these together or, as the leader of the session, you may ask everyone to consent to some specific parameters. In any case, getting the group to agree to these terms and conditions showcases the mutual respect present in the room. The willingness to agree shows that the group cares about the shared outcome being the best it can be.

  1. Give everyone a chance to speak

Every person in the group has a story or perspective that’s worthwhile. And it’s your job as the facilitator to ensure that each of those gold nuggets is shared and heard. Use tactics to get individuals to speak up for themselves. Set up exercises where each person is asked to share a little of their response to a question. And conduct others where ideas can be shared anonymously or in smaller group settings. Use a variety of tactics to ensure that each person’s input is incorporated. That way, each person sees themselves in the final outcome and feels deeply connected to the results.

  1. Employ a blend of tools, conversation starters and exercises

Diversity of activities is key to keeping leaders engaged in the purpose discovery process. For instance, some of the work may be done individually while other pieces may be done in groups. Have plenty of back-up questions and examples to share with the group. That way, if your original idea for a prompt or exercise is not understood, you have similar means for getting to the answers you seek. Employing these methods will ensure that each person can share in the way most comfortable to them and you have a wealth of stories and answers to sort through as you shape the purpose statement.

  1. Use a devil’s advocate approach for feedback to check for understanding 

There will always be at least one person in the room who plays the devil’s advocate. They like to challenge the consensus of the group. This is a good thing. As you come closer to a purpose statement that everyone agrees with, this person may throw a curveball for why it doesn’t work or won’t relate to the business. Don’t get flustered by their input. Use it to your advantage. Oftentimes, this feedback can help you check for understanding within the group and can further refine the focus of the purpose statement. Use this as a catalyst for clearing up the statement’s intentions and getting to the heart of what your leadership team truly cares about.

  1. Stay focused on the intended outcome 

All in all, you need to keep the group focused on the intended outcome: a purpose statement. If you’ll be the one crafting the statement based on input from the entire group, make sure you have all the information you need to do so. Be firm, yet kind, in redirecting conversations that may not be providing you the stories you need to do your job. And, if the group has decided that they’d like to craft the statement together, as the facilitator, it’s your responsibility to make sure they focus on that. It’s easy to go off on tangents in this process. People can get stuck talking about “what” and “how.” People also start to worry about implementation, usually before the statement is even finished! Encourage people to stay present to the task at hand, and remind them that this is all time well-spent for the future of the organization. 

To get to the heart of what your organization cares about and stands for will take careful guidance and utmost patience. Utilizing these eight considerations, you can create a session that is impactful, meaningful and, most importantly, productive. It’s our sincere hope that you find success in your endeavors, and if you believe that you need support in embarking on this journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Featured Resource:

Learn the eight critical mindshifts that ignite purpose-led organizations in our latest e-book: Mindshifts on the Path to Purpose

Mindshifts on the Path to Purpose Book cover

Avatar photoSavage Brands believes in unleashing the good inherent within all organizations. Business results are driven by connecting with people at the belief level. That’s why we align everything a company says and does with its Purpose through a proven process that links strategy and execution with “why.” We solve the challenges corporate America faces by building tribal loyalty from the inside out, focusing on people first to deliver authentic brand experiences. Savage builds purposeful brands, communications, leaders and cultures.