For any team or organization I start to coach, I seek out three things that will immediately tell me the group health and if they will be successful at any goals they set.  Those three things are: (1) Vision, (2) Values, and (3) Agreements.  Whether it is a 8-person delivery team, a 20 person start-up organization, or a 2000-person global division, these three elements need to be immediately visible in the language and behaviors of the people for the group to be functional.  For the rest of this post, I’ll focus on the first key (Vision) and I’ll use the term “group” to refer to a collection of people of any size whether it is a small team or an entire business.

Vision (and Purpose)

For me, vision is how the members of any team or organization see themselves fulfilling a purpose or need.  Every group has a purpose.  It can be implicit or explicit.  That purpose could be to dominate the market.  The purpose might be “provide security for our employees or members”.  You can sense this purpose with the conversations you have in one day with several members of the group.

The vision is a description of what the group’s world will look like when they have achieved that purpose.  It may be a story.  It may be an actual crafted image representing the end state.  It might even be represented as a physical object like a Product Box.

The organizations I find that are truly energized, aligned and successful have an explicit vision and purpose aimed primarily outside of the organization.  They want to go beyond dominating a market.  They want to flip the market or society on it’s head.   They want to change their world.  They care about “what’s in it for others” to have their group exist.

There are more of these organizations than you think.  I have had the opportunity to build several such organizations and partner with many others. What is interesting is these energized groups always have a vision that is explicit.  If you read their blog posts, newsletters, event calendar, talk with staff, and interview their leaders, you’ll see the vision.  This is because the leaders  are always sharing, testing, and exploring how to fulfill that vision.  They are reminding their colleagues, staff, partners, clients and community why they are working together and what that vision is to change their world.  They also show opportunities how anyone can join them to contribute to that purpose and make the vision a reality.

Organizations that don’t have an explicit purpose tend to be dysfunctional.  They may have a purpose like “keep the doors open” or “make us look good for the next opportunity”.  Such a purpose is rarely stated (except behind closed doors).  These groups almost seem to decay in front of you.  Or, the purpose could be something like “be awesome” where some rock star talent is attracted to the organization, but they all end up doing their own thing.  These members of such groups end up constantly clashing with each other because “being awesome” means showing others how they are “not awesome”.  These groups tend to tear themselves apart and their can be high turn over.

The strongest evidence of a dysfunctional group or team is when there is no vision.  They have no story of how they will change their world as a team, group or organization.  Without an explicit purpose, they cannot write this story about their vision.  And a team without a driving vision to share is not a team at all.

Have you seen energized teams and organizations?   Have you seen the dysfunctional one?  If so, please share in the comments below or email me using the contact form.