Reviewing the past year is useful in extracting lessons and recognizing patterns, but the hard work is casting one’s thoughts forward a year or more to take you into the future you want. James Allen, a British philosophical writer that lived from 1867 to 1912 and is known for his pioneering inspirational books, wrote, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
Beginner drivers stare at the tip of the car’s hood while moving along the road, concentrating deeply on what is directly in front of them and afraid to take their eyes off of the immediate future. Seasoned drivers cast their gaze farther up the road and experience the car moving into the future they see before them. This practice of looking ahead on the trail makes for a better skier and bicyclist, too. Might it also make for a better team?
Hard working teams rarely take time to think about how they think together. Yet it is their collective thoughts and mental images that generate their collective action. The practice of examining shared thinking patterns is the source of a team’s greatest leverage toward powerful action. To have team members perform differently together, they must think differently together. Like a beginner driver, most teams spend their meeting time looking at the tip of the car’s hood, thinking about the immediate present. Rarely do they together cast their eyes forward toward the shared future they work to create.
At your first team meeting of 2016, carve out time for people to think together about the future… and not just what is directly in front of the car’s hood or along the straight road, but also what the team wants to see around the road’s bend. Here are four questions for the team to discuss that will help build a habit of future-thinking together:
- Stretch The Future-Thinking Muscle – Ask: “What do we want (for our team, our organization, or community, our selves) to have in place in six months? two years? five years? ten years? twenty-five years? fifty-years?” Teams that practice deep future thinking together, align their actions and gain a greater awareness of how to move forward together better. Many people resist thinking into the future, but don’t let it stop your attempt. Post on a wall a timeline with multiple swim lanes and have people write or draw their future thinking in the lane for each stakeholder group.
- Taste and Feel The Fruits of Your Labor – Ask: “Once we have our future in place, what will the benefits? for me? for you? for us? for our community?” Teams that truly comprehend and value the benefits they will create for all stakeholders, make an emotional connection to the organization’s purpose. On the posted timeline, use a different color marker to label all the benefits. Notice how benefits become more global as you move forward on the timeline.
- Anticipate The Consequences- Ask:”What might be the unexpected dangers or consequences? for me? for you? for us? for our community?” Teams that anticipate consequences are more agile and responsive to unexpected outcomes that might arise. On the timeline, use a third color marker to capture possible consequences. The resulting wall chart will be a shared vision of the team’s unfolding future.
- Be The Change- Ask: “To make our shared vision happen, what “me” must I become? what “us” must we become?” Successful team change occurs when individual members link their own personal growth with the team’s success. Taking personal responsibility is more than just moving into the driver’s seat, but also working to become a better driver. Post a fresh wall chart and capture people’s ideas for personal changes they want to make.
When a team periodically sets aside time to think together about the future, members reveal their outdated assumptions, share their unspoken aspirations and build collective motivation for working together to create the shared vision of their future.