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How to Write an Effective Mission Statement

Every team has a purpose. Defining yours will make your path forward more clear.

Every team has a purpose. Defining yours will make your path forward more clear.

A good mission statement is the foundation upon which all future work is built, but most advice about mission statements is overcomplicated. This article provides simple and useful advice about what mission statements are, when they are needed, how to write them, and how to ensure they serve their purpose.

Key Points

  • A mission is a purpose or goal.
  • All organizations and teams need a mission statement.
  • Team type and life stage determine the writing process.
  • Excellent mission statements must meet five criteria.

What Is a Mission Statement?

Mission statements articulate purpose. What are you there to accomplish? In essence, why does your team/organization exist? All organizations or teams are assembled and continue to exist solely because they have something to do. Find what that is and articulate it.

Your mission is your map to success.

Your mission is your map to success.

Who Needs a Mission Statement?

All organizations and teams need mission statements. Remember that mission statements communicate purpose. Work suffers and becomes poorly aligned when purpose is unclear, so your mission statement is crucial to get right.

So, all teams need mission statements, but how formal should they be? Anything at the business/entity level really needs a formalized statement. The further from that level, the less formality is needed. A temporary project team, for example, doesn’t need an engraved plaque, but it does need a clearly defined purpose.

I once entered a healthcare organization as a department manager. One of my first goals was to clearly understand why our department existed and what mattered most to our customers. Answering those questions shaped the way I led the team and determined what we accomplished together.

How Do You Write a Mission Statement?

There is plenty of good advice generally available about how specifically to write a mission statement. Following any of those processes will work in many situations. Here, though, I just want to provide some advice for a few different situations because the statement-writing process should vary depending on the nature of the team.

New Organizations or Teams

Creating a mission statement at this stage is critical because it sets the foundation for your work and shapes all future development. It is akin to architecture. Why was this team or organization formed? What are we doing? These are important questions to answer.

Existing Organizations or Teams

Especially in large organizations, teams can exist for many years without a clearly articulated purpose. Defining the mission at this stage is akin to archeology or unearthing what is under the surface.

Things are happening every day, so just peel back the layers and describe them. Why was the system designed this way? And for what purpose? What was the intended outcome? Once the mission is described and clarified, it becomes easier to align work toward that mission and to change aspects of your strategy to more successfully pursue it.

Temporary Project Teams

This is the easiest situation of all. Temporary project teams usually form for a specific purpose or outcome. That purpose is essentially the mission of the project team. This purpose should be sponsored by someone with formal authority and should be written in the project charter under which the project team derives its authority. The questions to answer are: What outcome was this team formed to produce? And at what point is the mission accomplished and the team disbanded?

Mission statements help teams navigate their paths to success.

Mission statements help teams navigate their paths to success.

What Makes a Good Mission Statement?

Once the mission statement is drafted and undergoes some edits, how do you know if it is “good” or not? Remember that a mission statement is a tool designed for a purpose. Consider these criteria as a checklist. If your statement meets all of them, it is likely good enough for the job.

5 Characteristics of an Effective Mission Statement

  1. Congruent: Accurate; practice must match paper
  2. Simple and Clear: Understandable without explanation
  3. Memorable: Sticks in your head; short
  4. Inspiring: Elicits a sense of passion or desire to work toward the mission
  5. Marketable: Fit for use externally to gain trust or communicate purpose

Your Mission Is the Roadmap to Your Team's Success

If you have trouble getting started or get stuck anywhere, just start writing. If in a group, start throwing sticky notes full of ideas on the wall. Just start and get the ideas out. Somewhere in the mess is the mission, and you will likely know it when you see it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.