Does your team frequently reach consensus during meetings only to have it fall apart afterwards? Success visioning can help prevent this common and frustrating outcome.
The human brain is an amazing tool.
Every day it takes in an enormous amount of sensory data from everything happening around us. Then it processes, organizes and stores the data it deems most important to our safety, survival, and to our definition of winning. In the process, it literally creates ‘reality’ for us. Not bad for a 2.7 lb. (on average) organ consisting of 100 billion or so individual cells.
And yet, on many levels, the brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and what it is told. This may sound like a trip to a psychiatrist is in order. But in certain situations, this quirk of brain functioning can actually serve as a powerful tool for getting more of what we want and achieving our goals. In fact, world-class athletes around the globe make it an integral of their training regimens.
The foundation for this process, called ‘success visioning,’ stems from the brain’s ability to drive the body to action when it sees a clear endpoint or goal – whether real or imagined because we are better at proving ourselves right than anything else we do as adult humans By visualizing themselves crossing the finish line first or standing on the podium receiving the gold medal, athletes tell their brains they have already won. Believing the goal has been accomplished, the brain pushes the body to do what’s necessary to achieve it.
Does success visioning guarantee victory? Of course not – only one person can win a race. But it definitely improves performance by focusing the brain on what needs to get done and kicking us into gear on doing it, thereby increasing the chances of winning.
Getting Rid of What Happened?
What does this have to do with super-charging your meetings?
Most business meetings have one of three goals: to provide information about opportunities, problems or issues, reach a consensus on the issues, or make decisions about an appropriate course of action. At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. And yet, too many times it turns out very differently.
How often have you walked out of a meeting that resulted in agreement on a specific course of action, confident that everyone knew what to do and by when. Two weeks later you check in to see how much progress has been made, only to discover that what people have been working on doesn’t match your expectations of what should happen. In some cases, people get so far off course you wonder if they were even in the same meeting!
Miscommunications can cause this unwanted outcome, as well as the pressure people often feel to go along with the majority. When these occur, people may agree on the surface. But after the meeting, when they start making in-the-moment decisions, their underlying beliefs and assumptions can get in the way. Unless their beliefs and assumptions align with yours (which rarely happens) they will make different decisions than you.
As decisions that don’t align with the goal are continually made, team members eventually end up miles apart on the project. When you come together for the follow-up meeting, everyone wonders, “What happened?” This is where success visioning can keep everyone working on the same page.
Success visioning involves the use of future, active, past-tense questions to define a desired goal or outcome. For example, suppose the goal is to have a new product launch ready within six months. You then ask questions such as:
- When we have successfully launched the product, what were the key steps in the process and who was responsible for them?
- What new processes, ways of working or tools did we use?
- How often did we touch base with each other and keep everyone informed?
- What decisions needed senior management approval and which were made by others?
- What will we have focused on first, and how will we have made sure we all stayed on track as the project moved forward?
Notice that these questions use a past-tense voice, as if the answers to the questions have already occurred. There’s a good reason for this, and it has to do with how the brain works.
When we begin with the present tense, our brain typically goes to all the reasons we can’t make something happen. When we convince our brain we have already accomplished the goal, it doesn’t know we haven’t got there yet. So it fills in the blanks between today and the target date by coming up with ideas and solutions for achieving success. It focuses on winning rather than what is in the way.
Future, active, past-tense questioning helps paint a clear picture of success for everyone involved. It often uncovers attitudes and expectations that would otherwise not get expressed. When the conversation uncovers and defines what success looks like for a specific timeframe, it becomes easier to meet each other’s expectations and work together as a team.
Success visioning can lead to more effective ways of working in all types of meetings. For example, start your meetings by asking:
- When we have had a successful meeting, what decisions will we have made?
- How will we have most effectively made those decisions?
- How will we have gotten all the input we needed?
- Whose input will have been most critical/important?
- What new data will we have discussed that wasn’t previously available?
- What old attitudes and assumptions will we have discarded in the light of new data?
- How will we have captured assigned responsibilities and accountabilities for actions and outcomes related to any decisions made?
Write down your answers on a white board so all can see, then use them to guide the meeting. You’ll be amazed at the level of focus and the quality of work that gets done!
Expose Your Thinking
Here’s the kicker – even when you get good at success visioning, miscommunication can still occur, and you can still walk out of the room thinking you have consensus when you don’t.
As mentioned earlier, false consensus often occurs due to different attitudes and beliefs that people hold. These rarely get put out on the table. Achieving true clarity – and consensus – requires exposing your thinking so people understand your attitudes and beliefs.
When presenting an idea that requires a decision, explain your assumptions and the data that led to them. Give examples of what you propose, and explain who will be affected, how, and why. Encourage everyone else to explore and question your assumptions and data. Explain where you are least clear in your thinking, and stay open to different points of view.
To ensure alignment, ask others to expose their thinking processes as well. Most people are not used to doing this and may hesitate to volunteer their thoughts, especially when they hold an opposing point of view. If so, you may need to draw them out with questions or comments such as:
- What led you to that conclusion?
- Help me understand how you got to that point of view. What data do you have?
- Tell me more about why you’re thinking that way.
- What is stopping you from considering an alternative approach?
This process starts to uncover the underlying beliefs, assumptions and meanings others have about the topic under discussion. Only when we understand the why of someone’s belief or behavior can we make decisions that everyone can understand and adhere to.
The key is asking for opinions and feedback in a true spirit of inquiry rather than an aggressive or demanding manner. Make it safe for people to share their thoughts without fear of reprisal. Listen carefully when people respond, ask clarifying questions when necessary, and thank them for their remarks.
In today’s market’s, most companies can’t afford the time and cost of ‘do-overs’. Practicing success visioning while exposing your thoughts can improve alignment, keep people working on the same page, and eliminate the dreaded what happened?!