Shared Vision: Envisioning the Whole for the Future



Building Shared Vision (Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 1st Edition, p.  206)

All too often, a company’s shared vision has revolved around the charisma of a leader, or around a crisis that galvanizes everyone temporarily.  Then, given a choice, most people opt for pursuing a lofty goal, not only in times of crisis but at all times.

What has been lacking is a discipline for translating individual vision into shared vision:

  • A set of principles (shared vision as “hologram”) and
  • Guiding practices
    • Visioning process/unearthing shared “pictures of the future” and
    • Acknowledging current reality) that foster enrollment rather than compliance.

In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt.  A shared vision is a vision that many people are committed to, because it reflects their own personal vision.

This collective discipline establishes a focus on mutual purpose.  People learn to nourish a sense of commitment in a group or organization by developing shared images of the future they seek to create (symbolized by the eye), and the principles and guiding practices by which they hope to get there.

Here Peter Senge talks about building the discipline of Shared Vision:

“When we are really ourselves, when we really connect with who we are and what we care about, and we have the confidence and the support to be forthright and honest, we find each other, we discover the innate deep commonality in our aspirations.   Carl Rogers once said, “That which is most personal, is most universal.”  If that is not the case, there would be no shared visions.  Building shared visions is more than creating a shared vision.  Let the people talk to each other.  Let them reflect on what matters to them.  Focus on creating the environment where people can be continually reflecting on what matters to them and be in conversations where they can connect with each other.    And you will start discovering the elements of a shared vision.   When we really get that, we get the foundation and deep underpinnings of building shared visions.”



Consider including the following in the design:

Stage 1 (1/2 day):

  • Review the definition of personal mastery
  • Do the peacock feather exercise – clarify the bottom of the feather represents aspects of current reality – the top represents clarity of the picture of the future.
  • Relate to story of janitor at NASA
  • Do the Identifying What You Truly Want, Asking the Questions that matter and the million dollar exercise
  • Have participants read the 2-page write-up on Fantasy (pg 1-2) & review the material on personal mastery (pg 4-9 above)
  • Have participants discuss (in small groups) and share the steps the saw in the exercise
  • Have them consider if they may also repeat the same steps to shape visions in any aspects of their lives
  • Hand-out write-up on “Million-Dollar” exercise (pg 3)
  • Have them list actions they may take (start, stop and continue) to foster personal mastery in their lives (small group activity)
  • Celebrate what’s right and Focus on your Vision videos (optional)

Stage 2 (2 hours):

  • The next day: consider visualizing their visions on a chosen aspect of their life. Detail their vision – write or draw it
  • Keep it aside.

Stage 3 (30 mins – refer to Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, pg 339):

  • On their own: come back to their vision a day to a week later, and answer the following questions:
    • How did you first feel at the moment when you first put it down on paper?
    • How do feel about it now?
    • How does it strike your sense of identification? (Do you feel as if you could “own” it?)
    • If no, how would it have to change for you to feel a sense of ownership for it?
    • How does it strike your sense of meaning and purpose? (Do you feel as if it is a meaningful vision?)
    • If no, how would it have to change to be meaningful for you?
  • Based on your reactions and feelings, what implications do you see, from this vision, and about the visioning process?
  • Consider the notes on pg 4-9 as you find your way towards your vision.





Most discussions begin at the events level, with some version of “this is what happened”. Discussions on this level usually assign a single cause to each effect – “This happened because that happened.” Listen to an explanation of stock market behavior on any given day for a good example of reasoning at the events level.

There is nothing wrong in understanding the world as a series of events. It’s just not a very leveraged way to approach problems. Leverage begins with pattern recognition, with the basic insight that “this has happened before

Once a pattern has been identified and described, it is possible to document the systemic dynamics that maintain it.  The level of systemic structures marks the boundary between what can be easily observed in the objective world (events and patterns) and what must be assessed, often laboriously, from the data (mental models and vision).  Systemic dynamics are abstractions, but they stay close to the data.

The “causal loop” language describe in The Fifth Discipline is an example of this kind of thinking.

Systemic structures, in turn, are frequently held in place by the assumptions or “mental models” – assumptions that may be undiscussable theories on what constitutes quality, good service or an acceptable return on investment.  These “theories in use” may also treat interpersonal dynamics – for example, approaches toward conflict or the correct way to interact with senior leaders.

All of these levels are informed by vision. The key question at this level is “What do we want to create?”, or, taken retrospectively, “What do we seem to be creating?” These aspirations, stated or unstated, exert a powerful influence on the events, patterns, systemic structures and mental models working in any given situation.

(Attribution:  Dr Daniel Kim)

What is a matrix? A matrix is a grid with different elements on the horizontal and vertical axes. A matrix creates a grip of cells, each of which combines the attributes of the vertical and horizontal axis to create a unique meaning.

The Learning Action Matrix is a five by four (5 x 4) grid. Let’s understand each axis of the grid, and then see what happens when we combine these axis into a matrix.

On the vertical axis is listed “Level of Reasoning”, a way of identifying the level of complexity, and also the potential power, or leverage, in that level of discussion. Each of these five levels represents different “ways of seeing”, frames through which situations can be viewed at increasing levels of complexity. The more complexity that can be brought into the conversation, the more potential for change.

The vertical axis “Levels of Reasoning” is borrowed from Dr. Daniel Kim’s “Vision Deployment Matrix” (See “Levels of Understanding” in The Systems Thinker, June/July 1993). His work, in turn, owes a debt to the “Iceberg Model” from Innovation Associates Systems Thinking curriculum.

The horizontal axis of the matrix describes a four-phase iterative learning cycle: observe, assess, develop and execute.

Learning begins with observation, with seeing what has occurred. An assessment or diagnosis is made about what one has observed – one develops a theory about what is going on. This theory influences the development of a response, which leads to the implementation of certain actions. These actions are observed, initiating a second trip through the cycle.

When we combine the two axes described in the last section, we get the following matrix…

Notice how the terms on the horizontal axes are verbs (“Observe”) and the terms on the vertical axes are nouns (“Events”). When we combine the two we get a series of imperative sentences which we can group into four “Zones of work” (numbered above).

The four zones on the matrix are:

  • Zone 1: Observe Events and Patterns
  • Zone 2: Assess Systemic Structures, Mental Models, and Vision
  • Zone 3: Develop Systemic Structures, Mental Models, and Vision
  • Zone 4: Implement Events and Patterns


The arrows in the Learning Action Matrix show the logical progression through the four zones.

Learning begins with observing events and patterns (Zone 1).

People make assessments about the underlying structures that drive the behavior they have observed (Zone 2).

They then work to develop new structures, based on that assessment (Zone 3).

They implement the new patterns of behavior suggested from the changed structures (Zone 4) and observe the results of these actions, initiating a second iteration of the learning cycle.

While the boundaries between the zones are not hard and fast (rarely does a group say “OK – done with Zone 2: let’s move on to 3!”), the zones are helpful for a number of reasons:

There are different kinds of work that one must to do integrate reflection and action, and the zones do a good job describing these differing kinds of work. Observing what is (Zone 1) is different from Developing ideas about what could be (Zone 3). The differences are “different enough” to be useful.

Knowing where you are can help you get to where you want to go. If you’re leaping from seeing something (Zone 1) to doing something (Zone 4) without reflecting (Zones 3 & 4), chances are you’ll create the very unwanted conditions to which you’re. The Matrix helps to direct careful, learning oriented work by suggesting what to do next.

Finally, the zones provide a way for groups to quickly self-assess what type of work they’re doing now. My clients use the vocabulary of the zones as “sound bites” to describe what they see themselves doing. It’s a vocabulary that carries over beyond my work with them, which I really like.

The work that takes place in the different zones is discussed in more detail on the following pages of this article.



(Qns:  What do I care to create?)

What is the espoused vision of the future? What is the current vision in use today (the result of the vision somebody had in the past of today)? HIGH LEVERAGE ACTIONS HERE – PUTTING IN PLACE FUNDAMENT-AL SOLUTIONS GENERATIVE
Mental Models

(Qns:  What world views do we hold that influence the way the world pans out?)

What are the set of assumptions, beliefs, and values that need to be held in order to realize the vision? What is the prevailing set of assumptions, beliefs, and values currently operating that sustain the systemic structures? REFLECTIVE
Systemic Structures

(Qns:  Why does it happen?)

[Draw out Key Success Loops] [Identify Archetypes] Interventions to release resources to create the future CREATIVE
Patterns of Behaviour over Time

(Qns:  How do the events play up over time?)

[Behaviour Over Time graphs] [Behaviour Over Time graphs] LOW LEVERAGE ACTION PLANS HERE – PLANS NEEDED TO “PUT OUT THE FIRES!” ADAPTIVE

(Qns:  What do I notice?)

What are the specific examples of events that illustrate how the vision is operating on a day-to-day basis? (the KPIs) What are the specific events that characterize the current reality? REACTIVE

[1] What is the nature of plans we see below

[2] What are the signs that the plans are working