How to Sharpen the Focus of an Organization

Category: Culture & Society

Doing good work every day--that's the goal of every organization.
Now and then it's vital that organizations take a break from the dayto-
day frenzy to sit down together and make sure that those good
works are getting done efficiently and effectively. Honing the organization's
mission, vision and values is a time-tested technique.

Setting up a retreat

  • Identify your stakeholders. Go beyond the obvious people, such as the board of directors, management and so on. Include those on the front line who deliver the goods and services, and the people who receive them.

  • Schedule a meeting or retreat. It should be at least a half day long--a full day is preferable. Since a primary goal is to break free of the current mindset, get away to a neutral location.

  • Find a neutral facilitator. Remember, the goal is to bypass entrenched systems while brainstorming. You can also hire a professional meeting facilitator.

  • Open the meeting by talking about and celebrating the positive things your organization has accomplished.

  • State the purpose of the retreat and set the ground rules:

  • Defining the mission

  • Start tossing out ideas about what the mission of the organization is in the first brainstorming session. Keep in mind that the mission is why people serve--and that the organizational mission is often driven by the personal missions of its members. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and all ideas get recorded.

  • Look for organizational strengths and similarities as the ideas flow. Also identify weaknesses and areas that need help.

  • Find out what everyone's view of the mission is. For example, one member of a preschool board of directors may feel the school's mission is early literacy, while another may encourage play-based learning. A fundamental disagreement could cause people to leave the organization, but this is a small price to pay to keep it on track.

  • Clarifying the vision

  • Begin the next brainstorming session by asking participants to talk about possible outcomes--otherwise known as the "vision." Encourage pie-in-the-sky thinking: What do participants really want the organization to accomplish?

  • Pay attention to the discord that may come up when people are expressing their own visions or dreams. Those differences are indicators of the different values people hold.

  • Reiterate the importance of everyone participating regardless of their position. Intense discussions should be managed by the facilitator who can help individuals fully articulate their views.

  • Expounding on values

  • Conduct an exercise where participants are asked to write down the five things that are most important to them--whether they are personal, professional, family, physical or artistic in nature. Each statement should begin with the words "I value" to help clarify the difference between the things you want to accomplish (vision) and what you value (see 16 Set Goals). These do not need to be shared.

  • Go back to the initial drafts of the mission statement. Are there any that are a particularly good fit with the vision and values participants have expressed?

  • End session one of the retreat. Give copies of the notes to all participants. Schedule the next phase in a month or so.

  • Wrapping it up

  • Introduce phase two of the retreat with the goal of crafting a mission statement that is in alignment with the organization's vision and values. You are trying to draft a common story of why you exist to share with the world: This will be your mission statement.

  • Discuss possible scenarios. At this point, participants will decide if the work the organization does is in alignment with their personal values. If there is a disconnect, individuals may decide to leave the organization. Or, the organization's vision may need changing. Or, the group can look for a way to incorporate their values into the vision.

  • Use the mission statement to develop a strategic plan including marketing and publicity, organizational priorities, and recruitment-- of staff, volunteers and board members.

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