Pulling Together or Pulling Apart: Is Shaping a Shared Vision Together Even Possible?

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Feb 012013


Seeing and working at a preferred future together.

Seeing and working at a preferred future together.

One of the ‘bold ideas’ that has peaked my curiosity, challenged me, been the source of some of my deepest sorrow, and yet continues to be one of my core passions, is my pursuit of healthy community, marriages, and team reflected in the dance of real unity with diversity. After years of some successes, and a few failed attempts, here is the seminal question I keep asking: “Is  it possible this side of heaven for a group of individuals to not only co-exist, but start and sustain a journey of living a shared mission, cause, or vision together where every person is valued, and every person takes full ownership for the vision? This haunting question has been at the heart of many of the ‘irreconcilable’ conflicts in marriages, teams, and communities that I have observed or been a part of. On the other hand, I have tasted of the joy and pleasure found when a couple, a community or a team accomplishes a vision or goal that they could never have achieved on their own.  This quest to explore how real unity with diversity works has become a life long mission for me.

Here are the two default choices I have been guilty of, or seen repeated over and over again in other groups in the pursuit of a shared vision.  The first alternative is when a few who hold the power, either by position or in a defacto manner, decide what the ‘shared vision’ should be for the marriage, team, or community, and then use various and sundry means to get compliance from the group, community or partner to make the vision a reality. This is simply a contrived form of shared vision. There is no real ownership down the line, and when push comes to shove people will not voluntarily sacrifice to see the vision become reality.

The other option is when the group decides that they are too diverse, and instead of plunging into the hard, yet rewarding work of shaping a shared vision, the group fragments to become a bunch of individuals doing their own thing. They are held together loosely by a name or relational connection that is fuzzy in nature. There is rarely any dialogue, discussion, or decision making around a common vision. Neither of these choices is very rewarding or results in a true shared vision.

I would like to share with you a few practical principles, skills, and practices that I am slowly learning in my journey of shaping an authentic shared vision with my wife, my family, my community, and as I coach other teams in any culture. I have in no way arrived or fully mastered these skills, but whenever I see them demonstrated, I see a healthy dynamic in marriages, families, teams, and communities of whatever nature. Below are some pointers, tips, and exercises to help you on this messy, yet fulfilling journey of living a shared vision in your marriage, team at work, church community.

We can do more together than we can apart!

We can do more together than we can apart!

To Shape a Shared Vision:

  • Start with a circle of 2-5

Often we try to bring too many people to the table at the beginning of the journey in exploring a shared vision. The bigger the initial group the more diversity there is, and the harder it is to come to consensus without someone imposing their version of the shared vision on the group. The other reaction to having to many people trying to shape a shared vision is the group giving up on the experiment because it takes so much energy to agree about anything. There is a lot of talk, but very little gets accomplished. Look for some folks who have a common conviction and are convinced that they can do more together than they could do apart. Beware of ‘takers’ who want to get the benefits of a shared vision without paying the cost, and ‘whiners’ who would rather complain about everything that is wrong without doing anything to bring about change.

A healthy shared vision is shaped around being for something not just being against something!

The greatest sign and wonder is when 2 or 3 different people can not only get along, but actually accomplish something together!

Here are a couple questions to get the ball rolling: What is it that we want to create together? What does the preferred future or dream that you would like to build together look like?


  • Cultivate a culture that moves from Compliance to Commitment

Commitment is when everyone owns the vision as their own, and is willing to voluntarily sacrifice time, energy, and money to see the vision become a reality.  The difference between commitment and compliance is that the primary motivation is privilege not obligation. When there is a culture of commitment in the team people talk about it being our vision versus your or their vision. People will commit to a shared vision if it reflects their own personal vision. What people own they will wholeheartedly pay the price to see happen.

Shared vision is when My vision is fulfilled in Our vision!

Shared vision is when My vision is fulfilled in Our vision!

In his book The 5th Discipline, Peter Senge describes on page 203 the varying attitudes people have towards a vision.

  1. Commitment: Wants it. Will make it happen. Creates whatever “laws” (structures) are needed.
  2. Enrollment: Wants it. Will do whatever can be done within the “spirit” of the law.
  3. Genuine Compliance: Sees the benefits of the vision. Does everything expected and more. Follows the “letter of the law”.  “Good Soldier”
  4. Formal Compliance: On the whole, sees the benefits of the vision. Does what’s expected and no more. “Pretty good soldier.”
  5. Grudging Compliance: Does not see the benefits of the vision. But, also, does not want to lose their job. Does enough of what’s expected because he or she has to, but also lets it be known that he or she is not really on board.
  6. Noncompliance: Does not see the benefits of vision and will not do what’s expected. “I won’t do it; you can’t make me.”
  7. Apathy: Neither for or against vision. No interest. No energy. “Is it five o’clock yet?”

Here are a few questions to help cultivate commitment: Does our vision reflect your personal vision? Are you  serving this vision out of obligation or privilege? What would help you move from compliance to commitment? Are we all willing to give time, energy, and money to see this vision become a reality?


  • Give Space and Time for Conversation to Understand and Translate the Vision and Values:

The difference between aligned vision and shared vision is when we think we mean the same thing by a common word we both use interchangeably. Yet in reality we are lost in translation. If we describe in practices or by tangible experiences what we mean by the word, we would find out that though the end goal of our vision may be the same, how we would achieve the vision is quite different. For example, if we ask each other if we believe in the word ‘community’ most of us would give an emphatic “yes!”  If I then shared my expectations of community whereby I longed to live in the same house or neighborhood with some people where we ate meals together, we pooled our money, and we all committed to the mission of stopping the injustice of human trafficking, your mouth might drop open with shock. What you expect from community is simply getting together on Monday night to watch football and have a beer and wings.

Here are some essential tools for translating vision and values:

  1. Translate your abstract values into everyday practices and habits that are concrete and easily applied. For example if one of your values is ‘mentoring’. Take the time to go around the table and have each person share a life changing or positive and negative story of their experience of mentoring. Then go around the table again and have everyone share a practice of mentoring. Resist the temptation to jump in to sell your point of view, to make value judgments, or to prematurely make decisions about direction.  Simply listen to each other and try to understand one another.
  2. Make decisions that flow from a consensus around your common values and practices that you have agreed on.
  3. Keep coming back to and asking the question “Why do we exist?”.  Then check to is if everyone is still on board.
  4. Take time to surface ‘unspoken expectations’ around the vision. What is the ‘spoken culture’ versus the ‘unspoken culture’ of the team? Often we speak out values that we hope to practice, but in reality the real values are the ones that are deeply ingrained and demonstrated in our daily living. For example, if a church community says they value hospitality, yet when a new comer shows up at one of the church gatherings they are not greeted, people hover in their cliques, and the visitor leaves without a regular member speaking to them no less inviting them out for a meal.  The reality in this community is that hospitality is a ‘head value’ not a ‘foot value’ yet.
  5. Keep demonstrating by action your agreed upon values.


  • Nurture a Climate of Trust that Transcends the Cycles of Conflict and Change:

Trust is the glue that holds people and the shared vision together. It takes a long time to build trust, and it can quickly be lost.  Teams and marriages will go through cycles of ‘high trust to low trust’ because of normal conflict and change. Shared vision is not stagnant. People change as they discover more clearly who they are and what they are about. Where they once had a shared vision with a team or another person, they may now have aligned vision. Here are some questions to help process conflict and hopefully move from low trust back to high trust:

  1. Are you for me?
  2. Will you be honest with me?
  3. Are we going in the same direction? (clarifying shared vision)
  4. Will you do what you say? (over promising and under delivering)
  5. Do you have the resources to do what you say?

The result of working through conflict and change may result in some people needing to move on and the team morphing. The challenge is to do this without the collateral damage of destroying the relationship. In marriage, the hope is that both sides will be willing to compromise and discover and a win/win or 3rd alternative to their conflict.


Accepting Bounded Chaos.

Learn to Embrace Mess, Paradox, and Chaos:

The reality is that as much as we think we are in control, we’re not. Life is messy. Change is happening at a rapid pace all around us. The way forward is not always a straight line. That means our shared vision together will go through shifts and will need to morph. The way forward is to be at ease with, and to learn to surf the waves of seeming chaos to reach order on the other side.  This is what we call bounded chaos.

This does not mean giving into anarchy where everyone does their own thing, or on the other hand reverting to forms of command and control to reach a contrived shared vision through rules and fear. The skills needed for navigating the waves of chaos are complex communication, a shared commitment to one another and the vision, living with the tension of paradox while giving time for the emergent creativity to bubble to the surface. Continued risk taking, and the morphing of structures to serve the life of the vision are essentials to shaping a shared vision in this day and age.

Have fun as you dive in with a few to explore and experiment what it would look like to build something together that you could never achieve on your own!


By Tim Schultz



How Do Organizations Stay in a Movement State? Part 3: By Practicing the Accordion Principle

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Apr 222012

Starfish have no central brain or head!

In the book The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom compare the nature of a spider and a starfish when it comes to multiplying. If you cut off the leg of a spider it may survive, but if you cut its head off it will die. Yet in a starfish there is no head. The major organs are replicated in each arm. So if you cut a starfish in half it will replicate itself. With the Linckia, or long armed starfish, you can cut it up into pieces and each piece will grow into a new starfish. For a starfish to move, one of the arms must go through a process of communicating with and convincing the other arms that they should also move. (p.35) What an amazing creature! This is the nature of how de-centralized movements function.


Catalysts work at not becoming the center

The nature of most movements is that they start out being decentralized, and yet over time there is a natural gravitational pull to become more centralized. This happens as the movement develops structures to serve the organic life of the movement. The struggle revolves around the ebb and flow of centralization and de-centralization. So the seminal question in most organizations, businesses, church denominations is “How do we remain in a movement state?”  A subset of questions is: “How do leaders keep from staying in the center, so that if they die or resign the movement shrinks or dies?  How do we steward power and authority? Is it possible for de-centralized movements to exist in harmony within more centralized movements?” The core of the questions revolves around the issues of leadership and structure.

“Every river has banks to guide the water to its end goal; every tree has a trunk to support the sap getting to the extremities of the branches; and every body has a skeleton to contain the spirit.”

Sometimes organic movements overreact, out of the fear of becoming a hierarchical organization that is a bottleneck to change and growth, by becoming very suspicious, or even anti or allergic to any type of leadership, or anything that smacks of structure, ritual, or deliberate planning. This is one of the central themes or plots of history. The upstart spontaneous movements throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. During the Luther led reformation, people reacted to the Catholic tradition of icons and relics by tearing down and destroying many of the icons in their churches. All icons and relics were seen as potential for idolatry and tools to manipulate people. Thus we get the word iconoclastic. On the other hand, the older more institutionalized organizations often see the new movements as a threat and try to squelch or even stop them.  This has resulted in numerous rifts, schisms, and divisive splits.

These same proclivities to swing from one extreme to the other are evident today. For example, look at what is happening in the Alberta political scene with the Progressive Conservative reaction to the Wildrose Party, as they threaten to unseat the PC’s from power in the upcoming election. Another example is the strong negative reactions and polar swings of some of the de-centralized emergent or postmodern forms of church, which reject any type of leadership or organization in meetings.

The Art of Moving From De-centralization to Centralization and Back Again

An alternative way which Brafman and Beckstrom raise in their book is the accordion principle. In the study of systems, what is being discovered is that a healthy organization will learn how to navigate the natural rhythms of moving like an accordion from de-centralization to centralization and then back again to de-centralization. If leaders learn how to deliberately take steps to move from one spectrum to the other in the life cycles of an organization, it is possible to remain in a movement state. Thus the question is not whether there is a need for leadership and structure, but more so how do we lead, and how do we adapt structures to serve life?


Brafman and Beckstrom posit the 5 legs of a movement that are keys to remaining in a movement state, moving back and forth from de-centralization to centralization.

Look for Circles of shared vision and trust!

1. Circles:  These are pockets of organic life organized around a common vision and natural relationships. These groups are small, self-governing, self-supporting, and self-multiplying. There is a strong sense of ownership for the raison d’etre of the circle, and there are norms that are passed on as a way of life that is caught, not as a set of rules or procedures that are passed down from on high.

  • Where are there circles of three people in your business, church, neighbourhood who have shared vision and trust one another?
“When people feel like a vision is their own they will voluntarily and joyfully sacrifice much to see the vision become reality.”


2. Catalysts:  Catalysts are inspirational leaders who develop an idea,  start a circle, and then get out of the way. They don’t care about recognition and holding on to power. They love to empower people to pursue the vision they already carry within them. They are allergic to hierarchy and becoming the center that the movement revolves around.  An example of a catalyst is Granville Sharp, who, even before Wilberforce, was the initiator of the anti-slavery movement in the 1800’s. Most of us have heard of Wilberforce, who gets all the credit, though we know nothing of Sharp, the original catalyst.

  • How can we inspire people with a big idea or help to draw out the vision in folks and encourage them to go for it?
  • What are some leadership models for charismatic catalysts to be who they are, and yet not mess things up by becoming the center or the bottleneck?
  • How are decisions made in your organization and who holds the trump card in the decision making process?
3. Ideology:  This is what I like to call the ‘Big Idea’ that grips people, or the song that already resonates with the longings in people’s hearts. For example, these days people are moved by the vision for justice, and ready to get involved in stopping human trafficking or dealing with poverty.
  • What big idea has gripped you so that you would voluntarily sacrifice to see that idea become a reality?
4. A Preexisting Network:  All movements are birthed out of a preexisting organization. For example, the Quakers were a platform for the antislavery movement in England.
  • How can existing organizations serve new movements being birthed from within, instead of fearing them and trying to control or stop them?


5. Champions:  These are folks who are salesman for the ‘Big Idea’. They are people persons and hyperactive networkers. In the anti-slavery movement, a fellow named Thomas Clarkson worked with Sharp to spread the idea of anti-slavery.

  • Who are some people persons you know who are great at networking and selling a ‘Big Idea’?