Practical framework to develop a team vision that’s grounded in reality
What? A vision statement for a company focuses on the potential inherent in the company's future; it's about what they intend to be. A great vision statement supported by concrete plans brings inevitability to the aforementioned potential. e.g. Google's vision statement is “to provide access to the world's information in one click.” A vision statement can be the biggest strategic differentiator in the pursuit of future riches!
This post is not about developing a company vision. It’s about crafting a vision for your team. Reason? It’s not uncommon for a specific team within a company to feel somewhat disconnected with company vision, especially as the company diversifies into multiple lines of businesses, and the capabilities needed to serve the different functions explode over time. e.g. I’m not sure if the Chrome OS team or any of the teams under GCP at Google feel aligned to Google’s overall vision. Also, often corporate visions are too vague to serve an actual purpose.
A team vision is the team's declaration of its future; it’s a long-term, overarching team goal.
Why? The team vision defines a shared understanding of success. It helps direct the team's energy toward the same goal. Using the team vision as a Northstar, you can evaluate design alternatives and perform everyday tasks with high engagement and high strategic alignment. What’s more? It can help attract the right candidates to accelerate your team’s mission.
Who? Undoubtedly, as the manager of your team, this is your responsibility. But that doesn’t mean you do that in isolation. In fact, one of the most common reasons for the visions to fall flat or become dead on arrival is because more often than not, they are developed in isolation with a complete disregard for the team's strengths, aspirations and ideas. You absolutely need to collaborate not only with your team, but also with key stakeholders. This helps ensure you’ve a clear assessment of the team's strengths and growth areas which will become the foundation to charting a course that’s grounded in reality.
When? Ideally, this should be your 90 day goal. As you go through the discovery process - learning about the company's business, financials, culture; connecting with stakeholders; learning about strategic direction, core processes, operational analytics, customers, competitors, regulations, regional nuances - you create a solid foundation based on accurate understanding of cultural and political landscape, alignment and existing capabilities. This forms your now.
Team vision is a living and breathing document. It should be revised at least once a year, and with every significant technological and organizational development. Keeping it current is paramount to realizing its full potential.
How? Clearest path to the future is through an honest understanding of the present. Listening tour is a great way to achieve this understanding while fostering collaboration and trust. Here are a few sample questions you might ask in your listening tour.
What is working well? What is not working?
What should we do that we aren’t doing today? What should we stop doing?
What would you do if you were in my shoes?
What should I learn about this company and team that will be helpful to me in my role?
What is your favorite team impact story?
This would not only help you craft the vision for the team but also make sure there is sufficient organizational support to execute it.
Then you dive deeper - into product capabilities, underlying technologies, supported use cases - and you probe for (a) existing customer pain points, (b) inefficiencies, (c) generalizability, (d) extensibility, (e) architectural bottlenecks, (f) organizational overlap and (g) adjacent requirements. Taking all of these factors into consideration you clearly visualize what future would look like - what capabilities would have been developed, what technology investments would have been made, what build vs. buy decisions would have been considered, what new/existing customer engagement would look like, what the revenue/cost structure would be required to support this, what organizational design would need to be to support agile execution towards this vision, how many new people you would’ve hired and what skills you would have hired them for - and then you work backwards from it to arrive at a vision that has a clear path to success rooted in existing organizational machinery and team capabilities.
Finally, once you craft the team vision, don’t keep it a secret. Publicize it widely. Use it to recruit new people into your team. Use it to get alignment. Use it as a guiding principle to make decisions. Use it to question the status quo. Use it to prune execution paths. Use it to influence wider product/team strategy. Use it to develop leaders. Use it as a daily motivation. Use it to develop an even bigger vision.
Putting it all together
Let me share my story behind the aforementioned vision statement for my team at Cisco Hyperflex. The year was 2017, and we had just been acquired by Cisco. While we had proven ourselves in the primary storage business, when it came to data protection (disaster recovery, backup), we were just getting started. We had delivered strong VM centric primitives, but far from realizing its true potential. I had recently assumed broader management responsibilities due to some attrition. Post acquisition, Cisco invested heavily into this software venture and the team needed new goals, direction and a framework to succeed. HCI - hyperconverged infrastructure - promised to bring cost efficiency and agility into the storage domain, and after working through a new set of stakeholders within Cisco, we believed simplicity could drive innovation and sustained differentiation in our product lines. Backup in enterprise was (and to a large degree still is) a complex operation requiring experts to configure and maintain. We decided to change that. We decided a radically simpler backup operation would not only increase adoption of our product, but also help us gain brand new customers who shied away from backup due to its inherent complexity. This pain point and promise of this approach resonated loud and clear through our customer conversations. We looked at the capabilities we delivered as part of 1.0 release of disaster recovery, brainstormed with the teams (Eng, PM, UX) and came up with the vision of - “Single Click Experience” which over time evolved to Bring iPhone-like backup experience to enterprise IT. The idea was - just like how iPhone users don’t need to worry about “configuring” the backup, they know their stuff is getting backed up based on some “default”, and they have an option to tweak this config - the enterprise apps should just be protected by some default (editable) configuration. This was our 5 year vision, and now with the luxury of looking back, we steadily delivered towards this promise, with features like Intelligent Re-protect, Efficient Failback, WAN Optimization, One-Click Migrate, Powershell based Runbooks, SRA, Global Recovery Parameters, and Support for large scale VMs -which were identified as part of the vision exercise. With these building blocks in place, the team leveraged Cisco Intersight to drive policy driven operations at scale to radically simplify backup operations for the customers, and we delivered N:1 Replication for HyperFlex Edge Clusters - the strongest statement towards the vision we set out four years ago.
As you can see, the journey towards realization of the vision required continuous innovation along the way, alignment of organizational priorities, feedback and engagement from customers and support from many stakeholders over a long period of time. Only with a 10x vision, were we able to realize the ambitious goals we’d set for ourselves!