The Outsized Power of Shared Purpose


In 1992, seven years into my company, I was a relatively new corporate officer and by now a keen student of teams. This was during the period of my father’s death, when Debbie and I joined what turned out to be a booming church. As I described earlier, we saw a funeral-home congregation of two hundred explode to what would be twenty-two thousand people on five campuses.

But that’s not all.

As the church moved from the margins to mega, its surge was not top-down, but from the inside out.

It grew through a widening network of single engines

– small groups of eight to fifteen people each.

And every engine outperformed the sum of its parts.

Sunday mornings,

as Debbie and I sat in the pew watching video updates, we saw volunteers very likely bored at their day jobs outshine and outperform professionals floors above their pay grades. I’m thinking of

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Matthews Ministry for special-needs kids
  • outreaches to prisoners
  • foster kids
  • addicts
  • and more

I’d watch the videos and think:

Do these people’s managers at work know the talent they’re sitting on?

One Sunday I resolved never again to overlook the obvious.

That Monday at work, I began to form cross-functional, cross-divisional teams. Forget income, background, education, or title. Forget ties, heels and collars. Nobody was nobody. And we proceeded to see at work, as I saw at church, that to the degree a job had the right people, whoever they were, the better the me rose to we, and the higher the output.

Managers run hot and cold on teams

– how to use them, whether to embrace them, what they mean –

but progress runs on cooperation, and that’s a whole book in itself.

We humans are wired to achieve together.

Maybe you’re mentally trolling for exceptions. Albert Einstein, you think. There’s a loner who recast how we understand the universe. But E=MC(2) didn’t come to a man in a vacuum. Albert in Munich didn’t make his own meals or teach himself mathematics. Sometime google Helen Dukas, secretary – the housemate and protector of the great man’s time, privacy, reputation, and eventually his legacy. She may be a footnote to a footnote, but her employer’s work for the ages turned on the hours and space she helped create and enforce. We all have our stories of people who got us down the road. Parents, school nurses, friends, camp counselors. 

From my first steps across the living room floor to high school track competitions; then from 4-H livestock judging to global supply chain; from walking into a makeshift church to a walk with God . . . if I’ve passed a milestone or brushed a goal, what I know that Albert Einstein knew is that nothing significant, personal or public, ever happens alone.

Randall Linville is a former farm kid, trader, and corporate head. Today he is managing director of ClearSight Ventures – and a nonprofit and community champion of every size team and dream. His new book is Plan of Action: Navigating a Life of Change, Work and Faith.

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