Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Power of a 3 x 5 Card

Guest post by Mark Miller – I just read his new book: The Secret of Teams – it is excellent!

There’s something extremely powerful in a shared purpose. This may seem obvious to any of you trying to build a great team. But you’d probably be surprised how often teams do not have a common sense of purpose.

man holding index card, focus on card









One of the more vivid illustrations I’ve seen was a non-profit organization I was working with many years ago. It was an organization more than 100 years old! This fact alone seemed to imbue the leadership team with a false sense of clarity. “Of course we know why we’re here,” was their tone as we talked.

I decided a simple exercise might help.  I passed out 3 x 5 index cards and asked each member of the team to answer one question: “Why are we here?”

I collected the cards and read each one. None of them contained anything bad, but you can see where this is headed. Not surprisingly, there was virtually no agreement.

Here’s the point: teams that excel start with a clear sense of purpose. Each of the members of the group needs to understand explicitly why the team exists.

But there’s more… high-performance teams are also able to quantify this. They have a specific goal or goals they are pursuing. They often have a scorecard of key metrics that the team manages.

One additional observation on this – the best teams often have a reason for being that goes beyond performance – it is performance plus something. One of my favorites is the idea that some teams strive to grow performance and grow people. I’ve talked with many leaders that embrace both these as criteria for success. You might even argue that without growing your team members, growth in performance will be more difficult.

Why does your team exist? Does everyone on your team understand the purpose? You may want to pass out some 3 x 5 cards and find out.

I’d love to hear from you on this! Let me know if you try it – and what you learn.

Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do with those who are ready to grow. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere. You can read Mark’s blog at


  1. Don’t usually send these.

    Anyway this is a technique I’ve been using for quite some time now.

    In my consulting, where I do talks, seminars, workshops, lectures for the design and construction industry I have a specific talk/workshop which call “Listen”.

    It’s about the fact that in many companies, relationships there is a lot of talking but little listening.

    During this talk we bring the entire unit or company together to ‘talk’ about topics such ‘what the company does, what it stands for, what its goals and objectives are, why they are not making money, getting jobs done on time, etc.

    The day before the talk, as they are leaving to go home I hand out index cards to each and every one and ask them to write down what they think or what the answer is to whatever the question is.

    The next day – during the talk, I ask each one to read out loud what they wrote and we then have a 5 minute talk about that persons response. Wow, let’s just say that the comments from everyone are in the …”I didn’t know you felt that way”, “is that what this company really wants?” …and so forth.

    As you mentioned …Not surprisingly, there was virtually no agreement.

    We then use that as a basis for starting to work on whatever the question was.

    What I do find is that there is just not a good way to consistently follow up.

    I have tried creating a ‘mailbox’ – like a suggestion box prominently displayed — sometimes it’s a bird house, bird feeder, some times an actual mail box, sometimes a tool box , and that works for a while, but only a while.

    I am working on a follow up system that involves the 3 x 5 card itself as an externally generated vehicle, tool for follow up.

    Yes, I am a 3 x 5 card fan, as you will notice from by ever companion the
    Oxford® At-Hand Note Card Case.

    Perhaps we can discuss at one of the breakfast meetings.

  2. It’s funny, I have a lot of 3x5s sitting around doing nothing. I am going to try this. I think I am also going to try this on my wife. Very nice post.