The US team brought 9 sports psychologists to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.  Elite athletes are expected to be in peak physical condition, but they also substantially improve their competitive advantage with psychological training.  

Athletes are trained to visualise in great detail what success looks and feels like, achieving a winning combination of mental and physical performance.

Like sports teams, work teams need an ambition, something to work towards, or something to win together.  Most work teams have objectives, but not all have a team vision, that is an understanding of what outstanding success looks and feels like for the team.  Creating a team vision brings to life the potential for what can be achieved together. 

We know that committing to goals improves team performance, and if those goals are challenging and ambitious, they can raise performance levels, which is why at Google they deliberately set objectives that are ambitious and uncomfortable.

Brands have used vision to define their work, motivate their teams and inspire their customers.  Dove’s vision is “to help the next generation of women develop a positive relationship with the way they look – helping them raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential” and Tesla’s is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”.  For both brands, their vision stretches their teams beyond the specific products they sell.

Creating a shared, ambitious and idealistic team vision is an excellent way to make your team achieve more together.  A great team vision keeps the team focussed, even in the grind of the day to day.  Because team members have imagined the potential for success, that success feels closer and more meaningful.

A great team vision has 5 important components:

  1. It is idealistic – the vision is the best possible future that this team could create if they are very successful.  This means it might be unrealistic, or even impossible right now, but it is a clear direction to aim for.
  2. It is long term – the vision is at least 5, 10 or even 20 years out, so there’s enough time to make real progress, rather than being weighed down by practical or tactical issues.
  3. It is emotional – you can imagine how it feels to get there, what people will be saying, or why it is so important to the team to succeed.
  4. It is challenging – it makes the team realise that they could, and should, aim for much more than just getting the basic job done.
  5. It is purposeful – when people read the vision, it can be incredibly motivating because it has a positive impact on the world in some way.

How to create a team vision using the “Newspaper Headline” tool

One of the main tools I use is called the “Newspaper Headline”.  It’s pretty simple; you ask your team to create the front page of a newspaper in 5, 10 or 20 year’s time, when this team’s work has been remarkably successful. 

  • First, the team choose the publication – is it front page on a broadsheet, or the cover of an industry magazine?  Make sure they have this clear first.
  • Then they write the headline – what is so incredibly newsworthy that this team has done that it features on the front page?  The key here is to be brave and provocative, making it as attention-grabbing as any headline would be.  This step alone makes people really think through the impact of their work.
  • Once the headline has been chosen, the team writes the story of how they achieved such incredible success.  This allows people to break down the success, and in this “post-rationalisation” of the headline, usually some great principles, ideas and values emerge.
  • We always ask people to insert a picture or diagram that brings the story to life.  This usually encourages a personal angle or creative idea that adds more richness.
  • Finally, the team writes a small paragraph “in other related news”, such as what happened to the competitor company or a project spin off in a new direction.
  • Once the template is complete, use the results to inspire your team to write a simple, yet ambitious, team vision statement. 

If you’re a team of 5 or fewer, you can do this using one template.  If you’re a bigger team, make sure to split the team into groups of 3, with each group working on a separate template, before you present them back to each other.

Using the Newspaper Headline, your team will enjoy creating a stretching and emotional vision beyond a boring project deliverable.  I’ve often seen a rich vision like this generate brilliant new ideas for the project’s delivery.  This aligns the team emotionally, and is far more motivating than any amount of shared objective setting. 

Like those elite athletes, every team needs to have a winning combination of mental and physical performance, and the first step towards this is creating a powerful vision for your team.

For more of the downloadable template and instructions on how to use this and other visioning techniques, find more free downloads here

Article by Pam Hamilton