Aligning a team or organization towards a common vision is one of the biggest challenges faced by leaders across the world. In the fast-paced business landscape of today, having a good idea does not seem to be nearly enough, companies with great ideas are being beaten to the post by competitors who are able to move their teams and organizations faster. This poses a two-pronged problem for the leaders:
- How do they arrive at a team vision that can intrinsically motivate the team to pursue it relentlessly?
- How do they ensure everyone in the larger organization is aligned and buys into the common vision?
While working with various business leaders across industry verticals for team visioning interventions, we learnt various lessons along the way, some of which are shared here:
1) Defining the Need and Timeframe
- Why do you really need a vision?
We have seen leaders struggle with their understanding of the concept of visioning itself. In the early 90s, the term BHAG(Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) was first used in Jim Collins’ work Built to Last and dealt with the importance of having aggressive, long term vision or goals. However, if the job of your team is to only execute a strategy pre-determined by corporate headquarters, probably a planning and execution session would do your team more good than a visioning exercise.
On the other hand, if the team needs to chart out a future that is not already well documented – and about which, different people in the team have differing perceptions, it makes a lot of sense to pull in everybody to create a common vision.
- Do you have a time horizon in mind?
Any visioning intervention should look at a time frame of at least a year for it to be meaningful and purposeful for the team. There are instances where we have had to gently point out that one quarter or one half of a year is rather too short a timeline for working on a “Strategic Vision” for the team! Working towards a BHAG often calls for distinct behavior changes that need to be initiated by the leadership team and imbibed by the rest of the team members. Such behavioural changes don’t happen overnight – they require at least a one year time frame to be institutionalized.
So, what is the time horizon for the vision that you hope to create for your team? Anything too short is meaningless – anything too long will not be motivating enough for most teams.
2) Choosing the Right Tools
Ok, you have established the need and also a realistic time horizon for the vision you want to create for the team. What next? How do you go about creating a shared vision in a manner that truly engages everybody in a team? After all, if people do not feel they have had a say in creating the future, very often, they do not buy-in whole heartedly into it.
One common behavior we see in exceptional leaders is spending quality time in choosing the right tools in planning the visioning exercise. Leaders also spend time in understanding the nuances of the various tools to ensure that the session accounts for and harnesses their team dynamics. There are a plethora of tools today for arriving at this – The Shared history methodology, The Stargazing methodology, The Hero’s journey methodology & The Lego Serious Play methodology are amongst the more popular ones we have used with clients.
However, one method we are biased towards due to its observable impact is the methodology of Lego Serious Play. Originally an offering by Lego’s business division, Executive Discovery, the tool has come a long way as a strategic visioning instrument for leadership teams. The tool addresses one fundamental problem that leaders and facilitators of visioning exercises commonly struggle with – how do they ensure the participation and commitment of every team member in the visioning process?
Whichever tool is finally used for the intervention though, the facilitator and business leaders need to be in complete agreement over the suitability of the tool for the team in question.
3) Communicate, Communicate and Over-Communicate
Congratulations! You have gone through the grind and thrashed out a shared vision for your team that everyone has bought-in to. But the job is not done yet. How are you going to ensure that everyone in your team (including the larger team) see and share the same vision? We have seen the hard work of many well crafted visioning exercises peter off, once the visioning workshop is over. In fact one of the most disappointing occurrences for a facilitator is to get invited to conduct an intervention suspiciously similar to what they did in the previous year! What then is the missing piece? It is the simple truth that what gets decided in a visioning exercise does not get communicated all the way down the organization and in a uniformly similar way.
Communicating the visionstarts with first ensuring that the leadership team which sat down and worked on the team vision is fully committed to it and can articulate the same message to all the team members.
Prof. Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management, in her excellent work on innovation and breakthrough collaboration, The Creative Conspiracy talks about a simple exercise that she conducts with leaders, where she asks each individual to write down what they believe the goal should be and what they believe the goal is. Such exercises can help ensure that the leadership team is completely aligned and committed to the vision that they have spelt out.
Now that you know every single person in your leadership team is completely aligned with the vision and sees it the same way, it is important to percolate it down the line to each of their individual teams.
Again, here it is not just enough to send out a mail saying – ‘this is what we discussed in our offsite and here is the vision folks.’ It almost seems condescending, almost as if saying, ‘Here is our distilled wisdom – now fall in line.’ If the vision is important enough, it is reflected in the manner in which it is communicated down the line too. The best examples we have seen are of instances when individual leaders take their complete teams along in explaining not just the vision, but also how it was reached, why it makes sense and what is in it for each person of the team, if the vision is reached. This, along with overt communications like posters on the walls goes on to make a vision as something real and “shared” in the true sense. One thing we have realized while working with clients is this: When it comes to a shared vision – you can never really “over communicate.” So go on – communicate, communicate and over communicate.
4) Aligning Team Vision to Overall Organizational Strategy and values
Shared vision, at times has a soft quality to it. Something “nice to have,” but “does it really tie in with the hard reality of daily business” oftentimes team members wonder. So, the next question for the leader to ponder is: Does every member of the team understand how their individual contribution ties into an organization’s overall vision and strategy in the marketplace?
Everyone seeks a sense of purpose – and employees who can answer the above question will naturally be more aligned towards contributing to making the shared vision happen. To make it more tangible and real, leaders would be well served to think through and detail out for their constituencies: “What are the behaviors expected from individual employees for achieving this shared vision in agreement with our core values and strategy as an organization?”Also, it is equally important to spell out, “What are various unacceptable behaviors?”
5) Bias for Action
Fantastic, you have covered a great distance! Your organization is also clear on your shared vision now. What next? As that famous sage of management enlightened us, “What gets measured, gets done”. The final question then for the leader is: What are the milestones for this shared vision?
As important as it is to arrive at, communicate and align the teams – it is equally important to communicate what the goalposts are. Smart leaders often set it up in such a way that the teams can quickly see early wins – and celebrate it! Early wins while working towards a BHAG builds tremendous organizational momentum.
Working towards a BHAG often calls for trying out new things. But people feel comfortable trying out new things only when they are assured that they will not be penalised for failure. Good leaders often model the way, by displaying a “bias for action” by trying out new ideas and relentlessly executing towards the shared vision.
What has been your experience in this journey? Do you resonate with our experience? Do join the conversation and let us know!
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