Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is Shared Understanding?

Shared Understanding is knowing the rules, objectives, and boundaries of the pursuit. It is the rules of the game. It is knowing the spirit and culture and protocol of the game. Shared understanding is a state of being that is derived, not left to accidental and wishful thinking. Shared understanding is about renewal and alignment.

Creating shared understanding is not about doing what we have always done because we are not in the environment that we have always been in. Our context has and will change again and again. Our environment is fluid, unpredictable, dynamic and unavoidable. To reach our destiny, we must traverse the environment as it is, not as we would like it to be. We must be fluid, unpredictable, dynamic, ever present, and watchful. We must always be on the lookout.

The three critical pieces that create shared understanding in an organization are the vision, the mission, and the values. These three structural components must be unique to your organization, well defined and articulated, and authentic. How do you accomplish that? Different organizations accomplish it differently, but the best way is to imagine your way forward. The best way is to use the collective wisdom of your organization to imagine its full potential, its utopia. Imagining your future requires recognizing the demands of the larger context in which your organization operates, assessing the skills, knowledge, and mindset of your organization currently and asking what needs to change now to result in our making this vision a reality.

What are the specifics of imagining? The specifics of imagining are active thinking skills and active emotional reasoning: questioning, observing, pushing, probing, wondering, synthesizing, connecting, realizing, creating. The work of imagining is asking what to do we do? Why is it necessary and important? Does the world need us to do this? How does it change the world? How does the world value what we do? How do we value what we do? Are we sure? Is this exciting? Do others care? Do we care? How can we do it differently and better than anyone else? What do we need to believe in and do in order to make our dream for the future come true?

Once the organization has done the difficult yet necessary and invaluable work of imagining their future, crafting a vision and mission, and articulating their values, everything else - all decisions, actions, words, focus, etc. - derive from these guiding statements of possibility, purpose, and particular project criteria. This development work creates shared understanding because it lays out where we want to do, what we want to do, and how we will do it with integrity, in a way that reflects out fundamental beliefs and values.

These three components become the beacon that guide the way forward.

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