04 Align Your Mission With Those of Your Associates

Different people often have different missions, and that is no less true when they work in the same organization or even on the same project or task. Defining our own mission is essential to communicating effectively, but it is never enough when we aim to co-create. Co-creation requires us to acknowledge the different missions that our partners might have and define a joint destination. 

As a Process Manager, many of the discussions I initiate are derived from my mission to optimize end-to-end processes. My associates in these discussions are managers from different disciplines. While they can understand my mission and why it is necessary, each is likely to have a more concrete, often conflicting, mission: to meet their local commitments. We must address whether these two missions conflict. If they are, we must determine how to make them coexist or decide which one prevails in a given discussion. However, without acknowledging the existence of these different missions, they will remain a subtext that eliminates the chance for a meaningful conversation. 

Failing to acknowledge the potentially different missions my spouse, my children, and I have when planning a family vacation or the family budget can similarly create tension and friction in the discussion. Not every discussion becomes easier when the different missions are explicitly articulated, but as long as they are not spoken, no discussion can be effective. 

Having different agendas is natural; keeping them under the surface is disastrous. 

Acknowledging the different missions of our associates always starts with asking everyone to share theirs explicitly. Never assume you know what the missions of your co-creation partners are. The only safe assumption we can make is that our mission is not identical to those of our partners. Often, this simple question lays the groundwork for a more effective discussion. Your associates will not only appreciate the question but can also use it as an opportunity to think about their mission and define it explicitly. While most of us have a general sense of where we are heading, we don’t always have a well-phrased and thought-out mission for a given context unless we are asked to define one. The opportunity to define your mission is priceless. 

When the various missions are known, we can collectively evaluate to what extent they coexist. The fact that each associate might have a different mission does not necessarily mean they are in conflict. If promoting one mission in the communication flow will also help our associates move one step closer to theirs, everyone will be more engaged and the discussion will result in better outcomes. This is rarely easy to achieve. More often than not, the discussion will be more challenging, but the value of finding the path that takes everyone closer to their destinations makes it worth the try. 

When the different missions cannot coexist as they are defined, we can try to define a new joint mission. Our aim isn’t to settle for less; it’s to discover a shared mission we and our associates have never considered but can fully embrace. The new joint mission is not a combination of the different missions — it is a new destination we decide collectively to walk toward. 

A Customer Support Manager might be guided by the mission “to meet the Service Level Agreement (SLA) when handling customers’ problems.” In a preliminary discussion with the R&D Manager, it becomes apparent that the mission guiding her is “to meet the targets for releasing a new version of the product.” These two missions can be interpreted as conflicting: any effort dedicated to supporting a customer-reported problem will likely come at the expense of working on the new version. Making these two missions coexist is possible by defining an entirely different joint mission with which both managers can relate. One such mission is “to reduce the effort of investigating and resolving customer-reported problems.” This new phrasing may seem similar to the original one, but it helps both associates meet their internal goals. By reducing the effort needed to investigate and resolve issues, the Customer Support Manager will be able to meet her SLA, and the impact on the development of the new version will be smaller. This joint mission will be the lighthouse in the following discussions, guiding the team onto a new path. Instead of debating the priorities of concrete problems raised by customers, the team might be able to consider some tools and practices that will help address future issues with minimal effort.

If we fail to define a joint mission and the different missions cannot coexist, we have no other option but to prioritize the missions and decide which to promote first in the current discussion. In an organizational context, such prioritization can be done by a higher-level manager. If the missions in conflict all affect (or were assigned by) that management level, this is not just an option but a necessity. 

Acknowledging the different missions and trying to align them or define new ones takes time and energy. Aligning different missions does not come for free, but it saves a great deal of overhead, miscommunication, and frustration as we advance. Making this investment before we start the actual discussion ensures we’re all on the same page, targeting the same outcome. Remember that we don’t have to redefine the mission before each meeting, email, or message. We use the same mission across multiple communication flows. In other words, any investment we make in refining and aligning our missions will have a positive impact that will last across interactions until we reach our destination.

Creating great things together almost always means balancing and aligning different missions. When the different missions are explicitly articulated and acknowledged, and when we manage to align them, any following interaction becomes more focused and less charged.

Reflection and Practice

Pick a project or a task you are leading. Define your mission. 

Next, approach the people you need to achieve your mission. 

  • Ask each of them what their mission is. 
  • Ask them if they can align with your mission in the context of your project. 
  • If not, try to define a shared mission to which everyone can relate.
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