Vision Without Action is a Daydream, Action Without Vision is a Nightmare

Does your team have a vision?  If it doesn’t, it should.  I heard this saying once that really sums it up, “vision without action is a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare”.  In my experience, most teams are taking action yet the team vision is non-existent.  Now I wouldn’t say those experiences were nightmares, but in some cases I could see things moving that direction.  Most teams I’ve seen don’t follow the situation of having a vision but no action, therefore that scenario is not realistic or a daydream.

So how does a team create a vision?  Recently, the managers in my team spent some time at an offsite (everyone gets in a room together for an extended period of time to be able to get in sync and determine a common direction without interruptions from the day-to-day workings of the team).  During this time, we were to create a vision and a mission.  But where do we begin?  Luckily, we had an external consultant help us with that.  First, each person in the room had to write a letter to someone that left the team.  This had to be a letter from our future self, about 3-5 years in the future, and it had to describe some key things that changed in the team that made it a better place to work than it was back when this person left.  This was a very interesting exercise.  After our letters were created, we got into small groups, described the items we noted in the letters as improvements, and wrote down the top 3-5 items in each small group.  These would be items that were more common, or we rolled-up detailed items into a larger heading.  Once each small group was done with this, we compared these “visions” to determine if there was one we liked or if a mixture of a few of them really gave an overall vision list for the team.  Some of our items rolled into larger headings like Customer Value, Company Value, Team Value, Product Value, etc. with a total of about 20 characteristic or aspects of work that we wanted called out.  We thought we were done, but luckily we weren’t.

Twenty was too many, so we did a gallery walk - we all walked around the room looking at these items on the whiteboards and flip-charts and got to vote on our favorites.  From this, 3-5 key ideas bubbled to the surface and interestingly, these were somewhat different from the initial list.  They were more refined, more aspirational, and appealing to a larger group (since we voted).  I figured at this point we had to take these ideas and get them into some sentence that everyone could relate to.  But not yet.  And this is where the fun began.

We split into small groups again and had to draw what the vision would be from the 3-5 words and ideas we had.  I found this exercise really fun although I definitely was not the one drawing (thank goodness).  We had an idea around agility (meaning the team needs to move faster) that we had to get into the vision so we considered visuals like a racecar, bullet train, or Thomas the Train.  We considered some projects or teams may be less agile than others given the makeup of the team, the complexity of the work, and the requirements of the customers.  We also envisioned that the racecar, maybe a drag racer, would be on a drag strip and go really fast and be done quickly.  The bullet train would go fast on a straight path, but the city in the distance (its destination) was really far away.  And finally Thomas may be chugging uphill on a curvy track not really sure what’s on the other side of the mountain (like doing exploratory work or a proof of concept project).  From these tracks, maybe there’s a finish line with the phrase we want as a result on it (like “data insights”).  Other drawings for other aspects of our vision words included a brain, pocketknife, space, building blocks, rocket ship, dollar signs, and a prism refracting light into the colors of the rainbow.  Along with these drawings, we had to add a short phrase that stated our vision.  We wanted our vision to be short and memorable yet descriptive and understandable by multiple audiences at multiple levels, such as engineers, customers, and executives.  Overall this was a great exercise and in the end, we created a good vision statement along with a drawing that with some time to sleep on it, can turn into an effective way to move the team in the right direction.  And turn our actions of a nightmare into a fantasy.