Guide: Set and communicate a team vision

Introduction

Google Manager Behaviors 5 Is a good communicator. 7 Has a clear vision/strategy for the team.

Google's manager research found that setting a vision is an important behavior of high-scoring managers. A clear team vision is helpful for a number of reasons, in particular:

  • It’s crucial to the success of a team. One of Google's Great Manager Award winners explained that “having a compelling, shared vision is crucial to the success of your team, as it allows all of you to stay focused and move forward in the same direction. Conversely, not having a vision can dramatically hurt your team through lack of focus and a commensurate lack of momentum.”
  • Team members need to know where they’re going. A clear vision means that everyone on the team knows where they’re going, if they’re on track, and what success looks like.
  • It helps teams decide what to work on. A clear vision helps teams make trade-offs and prioritize. Managers should tie back to the vision when communicating decisions.

Once set, a manager also needs to be effective at communicating that vision to the team. Google's high-scoring managers are clear, concise, and honest in their verbal and written communications. But being a good communicator also means being an effective listener. Google encourages managers to be available for their teams and to encourage open dialogue and honest feedback, even when there's tough news.

build Tool: Create a vision with the team

To help managers create a vision with their team, Google offers the following steps to help teams define their values and connect them to their short-term goals:

  • Core values describe the team’s deeply held beliefs; these feed into the team purpose and mission.
  • Purpose is the reason why the team exists, and how the team impacts the organization. If the team didn’t exist, what would happen?
  • Mission describes what the team is trying to achieve.
  • Strategy is how the team plans to realize the mission. Strategy can be long-term.
  • Goals break down the strategy into shorter-term, achievable objectives and help align the team’s efforts.

Together, the values, purpose, mission, and strategies make up the team vision — why the team exists, what the team is trying to achieve, and how it’ll get there.

Create a vision

The team exercise below is designed to be a manager-led session of eight hours over two days. You can customize the content to fit your team’s needs. The exercise is intended to help your team understand the importance of a team vision and articulate the core values, purpose, mission, and strategy that drive your work, as well as how you intend to get there. The focus of the session is intended to be on facilitating group discussions and activities rather than presenting slides.

Make it your own: customize the tool below.

Building A Shared Vision Slides

Slide deck to present during this facilitated team session.

Building a Shared Vision Facilitator Guide

Facilitator notes and talking points to effectively run a session of Building a Shared Vision.

Guide: Set and communicate a team vision

Listen and reflect

Reflective listening involves listening to and reflecting on the words and feelings someone displays. It can help managers more effectively communicate, making their team members feel better understood. In Google's manager research, a Googler described their high-scoring manager like this: “In every interaction with him, I felt he understood what I was saying, knew how to help, and wasn’t afraid to push me out of my comfort zone”.

Here are some tips Google shares with managers on how to reflect on both the words and feelings heard during a conversation:

Acknowledge emotion

  • “You seem frustrated/upset/happy about this.”

Summarize what you’ve heard to ensure you understand, highlighting the key points

  • “It sounds like …”
  • “In other words …”
  • “So you are saying …”

Use uncertainty to get clarification on the other’s frame of reference

  • “I’m not sure I understand, can you say more about …”
  • “I think this is what you mean, is this accurate?”

Respond with acceptance and empathy

  • “I see why this matters to you.”
  • “I can understand why you’d feel that way.”
Guide: Set and communicate a team vision

Help managers give feedback

Giving feedback is one of the most important and challenging responsibilities of a good manager. Google encourages managers to consider the following when giving feedback to their team members:

  • Giving quality feedback. Ask yourself, “Do I give the same quality of feedback to each team member? Do I know my team members’ projects equally well?” After thinking about this, one manager at Google decided to make his 1:1 times longer for team members who were in a different office from him so he had enough time to have a real discussion.
  • Using consistent criteria. Ask yourself, “Have I outlined expectations and anticipated outcomes for my team members? Have I defined criteria for success for each person on the team?” Using criteria that are clear creates a sense of fairness once you start evaluating team members. As you judge the team member’s performance or interpersonal skills, think about how you would evaluate that behavior if it came from someone else on the team. Be mindful of potential unconscious biases and hold yourself accountable to applying clear criteria consistently.
  • Filtering based on assumptions. Ask yourself, “Do I sometimes filter what I say based on assumptions?” For example, are you ruling out a team member for a role that could involve a lot of travel because they have a child? Don't let your assumptions get in the way of you sharing an opportunity. Bring up the role with the individual or announce it to the team as a whole, and let them do their own filtering. Not unrelated, don't assume that you can’t provide honest advice to someone because they "may not be able to handle it.” Assumptions can be based on unconscious stereotypes of a particular group, and the key is to keep communication and messaging consistent for all.
  • Making sure you are understood. Ask yourself: “Am I making sure my message was accurately understood?” The more differences there are between you and the person to whom you are giving feedback, the higher the possibility your message wasn’t received quite as intended. Your message may go through more filters and cultural assumptions than you may anticipate. Ask to hear what the team member understood and clarify the message if needed.