Painting the Picture – A Sample Visioning Exercise

Sections of this topic

    (Adapted from my book, The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy)

    To help determine your organization’s goals, utilize a visualization exercise that guides the team through a scenario ten or more years into the future. The visualization should help participants see what was accomplished, how it was accomplished, and how customers, employees, competitors, and any other significant stakeholders view the organization.

    What follows is a sample of a visioning exercise using the meeting planners association.

    Sample Visioning Exercise – Meeting Planners

    The Set-Up I would like for you to imagine yourself sitting at your desk back at your office. On your desk is one of those calendars that turns one page per day. And it is showing today’s date, May 21st. As you are looking down at the calendar, by itself it flips, to the next day, May 22nd. Then it turns again, and again. And then it starts turning faster. You see June and July fly by. You see September, October. It’s now in to the next year, and then it begins turning very fast as it goes to the next year, and then the next, and then the next, and on and on, until it suddenly stops. As you look down you see that calendar shows May 21st, XXXX, ten years from today.
    The Presentation Imagine that you look up from your desk and you find you are not at your desk at all. You are in the back of a large auditorium and there are rows and rows of people seated. Way up front, there is someone speaking who is announcing an award. As you listen, you realize that the person speaking is the president of the International Association of Meeting Planners and the award is the Chapter of the Year which goes to that chapter whose outstanding performance and value to its members best exemplifies a level to which every chapter should strive. The president says, “At no time in the history of this award have the members of the seven judge panel been in unanimous agreement of the organization most deserving of this award, until now. And this year I am proud to announce that the award goes to the chapter based in ______.” There is a standing ovation as people get out of their chairs to applaud. You hear one person yell, “Fantastic choice.” Another says, “It’s about time.” The applause goes on for several seconds. When the applause finally dies down, the president says with a grin, “I guess you all like the judge’s selection. Let me give you a list of the accomplishments this organization has achieved over the past several years.” The president begins listing the accomplishments that made this chapter so deserving. Listen to what the president is saying (four-second pause). Fill in the blank. What was it that the organization accomplished?” Feel free to open your eyes to record, or keep your eyes closed as I continue.
    What Members Say On screens to the right and left of the stage, a video comes on. You see a group of people sitting in a circle, with one person, apparently a facilitator, asking questions. As you listen, you realize this is a focus group made up of about 16 of the chapter’s members. One member begins speaking, “The thing that is great about the chapter is…’ (pause) Fill in the blank. What did that customer say was great about the chapter? Another jumps in, “That’s all fine and wonderful, but the thing that really makes this organization stand out is…” (pause). What did that person say? Then another says, “I’ve been a member for about 25 years. And sure, they were doing some good things before. But in the last ten years, the chapter has really gotten it right. They started focusing on the three things that really mattered. What could be more important than …” Fill in the blank. What were the three things that really mattered? (pause)The video fades out and the president begins to speak again, “I would like to ask the head of the chapter to come to the stage, please. Would you give a warm welcome for…” And once more, there is a standing ovation as the head of the award-winning chapter comes to the stage.
    What We Did In accepting the award the head of the chapter explains, “I hadn’t seen the video before, but that 25-year member got it right. As it turns out, it was exactly ten years ago today that a group came together to develop a plan that described where we wanted to be and how we were going to get there. And I can honestly say that this first step was critical to getting us all on the same page and focusing on the same things.”Standing in the back of the room, you begin to smile because you were at that planning meeting ten years ago. You were a member of the team that got the ball rolling which resulted in this award.

    The head of the chapter continues, “Let me tell you just a little bit about what we did. In that first year, though there were a lot of issues, we had to start with first things first. So the first thing we did was…” Listen to what the head of the chapter is saying. What was done that first year? (pause) “Once we got that in place, the next thing we had to do was…” Listen again. What was that second thing? (pause) “But I would say, the most important thing came in year three. And this one thing is what really accelerated us and has resulted in the levels of achievement you see. In year three, we…” (pause) Listen to what the head of the chapter says…What was it that the organization did? (pause)

    “And so in closing,” the head of the chapter says, “on behalf of the members, employees, and Board of our chapter, I thank you for awarding us with this great honor.” And once more there is a standing ovation as the head of the chapter leaves the podium and the meeting ends.

    What Employees Say As you are leaving the gathering, you overhear a group of employees from that chapter talking. They are saying that they didn’t believe the organization would actually change, but that it did. They begin discussing what it feels like to work there, and how these changes have improved their lives. Listen to what they are saying. How does it feel to work there? (pause)
    The Close As you go back to your desk, you sit down and want to record some of the things you heard. Whenever you are ready, open your eyes if you haven’t already and take a minute or two to write down several sentences about what you heard. What was it that the presenter said? Why did the chapter deserve the award? What results were achieved? What did the customers say? What was it that the head of the chapter said was done to bring about these changes? What did the employees say about working there?

    The visualization exercise should guide the participants through a scenario ten or more years into the future that allows them to visualize the organization achieving tremendous success.


    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company, and author of The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement, and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States, having trained over 18,000 individuals.