The secret to getting the most out of your small or fractional team

Jackie Colburn
3 min readFeb 20, 2024

In the aftermath of significant layoffs in 2023, many teams are smaller and more reliant on contract labor, freelancers, and fractional roles. These changes have big impacts on the way people collaborate and get work done (or don’t).

It’s no trivial endeavor to figure out how to activate teams amidst change and prevent the churn that is so common when teams are fragmented. It’s especially challenging when, amidst the recalibrating, there’s pressure to maintain or increase efficiency and effectiveness, and to do more with less.

However, in my many years of working with teams of all sizes, I’ve seen small and scrappy groups tap into their potential to make a big impact.

So, how do you, as a leader, ensure that you’re setting your teams up to do their best work and build momentum at the start of the year? And how do you activate your team so they’re empowered to work well together and prioritize day-to-day decision making?

The key is to rally your team around a clear sense of purpose.

Here, I’ll explain what that means and offer an exercise you can lead your team through to define it together.

The Power of Purpose-Led Teams

Without a clear sense of purpose, a small or fractional team can actually be less efficient and cost you more money. Even if the organizational purpose is well-defined, there may still be struggle at the team level if people aren’t clear on how their work ladders up to the big picture. To combat this, you’ll need to cultivate a purpose-led team.

Here, the key is to help the team understand why they exist and who they serve. That clarity alone can go a long way in energizing a team and helping them make the right decisions when it comes to the day-to-day. It can also support planning and work efforts because when teams know their purpose and keep that front and center, they’re less likely to get caught up in details or drama.

Defining Purpose Together

To align your team around a clear purpose, I recommend bringing them together to define their purpose collectively (shocking advice coming from a facilitator, I know).

Begin by orienting them to the organization’s purpose, then shift the focus to the unique value they contribute to the overall success of the org. Even seemingly non-glamorous internal functions play a vital role and are oftentimes even more critical than externally-focused teams.

For example, let’s say you’ve got an operating function that helps keep track of contracts or data. Without this function, the business may be at risk or might not know what’s working. Elevate the importance of the team’s work and help them define a purpose statement that feels true today, as well as aspirational.

Crafting a Purpose Statement

Ask your team to think about their impact on both internal and external stakeholders. Identify the unique attributes that set them apart and the skills and capabilities that make them indispensable. The statement should hold up over time and be something that is more about the reason the team exists rather than the specific work they do. Start it with “We exist to…” then complete the sentence by leveraging the following inputs.

Prompts for Crafting a Purpose Statement:

  • Who does your team impact, both internally and externally, and how?
  • What are the unique attributes of your team?
  • What distinguishes your team from others?
  • What skills and capabilities does your team possess that no other team has?

The Power of a Clear Purpose

Having a clear purpose will help your team navigate uncertain and changing terrain. As the world and your business evolve, it’s less about knowing how to chart known territory and more about navigating changing territory. When you’ve got a purpose-led team that’s able to orient toward their north star, it illuminates the path forward. And who doesn’t want a light to lead the way?

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Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas.