Adding Context and Purpose for Better Work

If you've ever assigned a task only to find that the work that occurs is not what you've intended, context and purpose may be the missing factors.

By Chally Kacelnik

Back in 2015, our Managing Director Sam Robinson wrote a blog post to which it’s well worth returning: Sharing Context and Purpose at Work. He talked about how crisis situations often galvanise more productive action, because people tend to become quickly and powerfully aware of the context and purpose for what needs to be done.

Does this tell us anything about times when there is no crisis? I think it does. What this tells us is that people need to understand the context and purpose of their work in order to do that work well. […] Nurturing this practice helps create conditions for people to feel cared for, focused and less confused.

Sam Robinson in Sharing Context and Purpose at Work

If you’ve ever assigned a task only to find that the work that occurs is not what you’ve intended, context and purpose may be the missing factors. It can feel easiest to just ask someone to do a particular piece of work without telling them what it’s for or how it fits it with the other work being done in your organisation. However, that can ultimately result in a lot of rework when it’s not done right. This is not for a lack of effort on your colleague’s part, but because they don’t have the same information that you have, information you didn’t think it was necessary to pass on because the requirements were clear from your perspective. (See my post on Applying Theory of Mind at Work for some science concerning why this can happen.)

So what’s involved in providing good context and purpose? When we talk task assignment and planning tools with our leadership program participants, we get them to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Context: what is the issue? Why are you talking about it? How does it fit into the business context?
  • Purpose: what are you trying to achieve? (This should ideally be expressed as a single sentence without an “and”)

Internally, when we share work with each other at LKS Quaero, we tend to pretty explicitly frame it in these terms. My personal experience is that it’s a huge help in getting work done right the first time around.

Minimise guesswork and back and forth, while helping people to feel confident and focused at work. Add a little context and purpose in up front and you’ll see the difference.

At LKS Quaero, we help people and organisations to create the right conditions for productive work. For more information, visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.