Saturday, March 7, 2009

Beginning The Shared Vision Journey: The Inquiry Probes Experience

Every leader needs a shared visioning tool in their leadership tool-kit. Over my next several posts I will describe the shared visioning tool I have refined and refined over the past thirty years – the process that is currently used by more than 70 organizations across the globe.

Wherever I have gone the beginning of building a shared vision has been a powerful organization happening. It begins with the Inquiry Probe experience. People often laugh at the name because after all, an Inquiry Probe is simply a question. I have always liked the word “Probe” because these are vital questions designed to “probe” deeply into the lives of everyone who participates. They must answer the Inquiry Probes together to draw from the organization their beliefs, values, aspirations and experiential knowledge, to form the basis for the shared vision of the organization.

From many years of experience we have learned that eight Probes seem to work best. It is important that the Probes cover the key aspects of life within the organization.

A key decision an organization must make is who will be invited to the shared visioning experience. Different organizations make different decisions in this respect. Most organizations try to ensure that all staff attends. Many organizations invite their Board members, key community leaders, cultural leaders, other community members. Schools invite parents, current students and former students. One rule of thumb that seems to work well is to ensure that the staff is not outnumbered by the other attendees. Be clear that who you invite, and who you do not invite, will send strong messages to your organization community.

On the day those in attendance will work in groups of 7-8 people. Each of these groups has a facilitator attached to them to help them work through the Inquiry Probes. These facilitators must be trained in advance. The main criterion for this selection should be that they are people of high credibility and good interpersonal skills. The more diverse they are the better. Similarly, the more diverse the groups are the better. So, the leader needs to design the membership of the groups to bring about the maximum richness of interaction.

As the groups work through each of the Inquiry Probe it is imperative that the leader provides them with powerful consensus building tools. We have always used two: classic brainstorming and 10-4 voting. The power comes from the tool’s transparency, fairness and equity. Every person presents their best answers to the Inquiry Probe as everyone else watches it happen and everyone has ten votes to spend to generate the final consensus.

At the end of the Inquiry Probes experience the leader has the best thinking from the lived lives of everyone present answering the Inquiry Probes. This rich data informs the writing and development of the Shared Vision.


1. What key characteristics of Service Department Online’s history are going so well that we should continue to use them, and build upon them, for the foreseeable future?
2. What are the best ways to demonstrate to our clients that we provide diversity, innovation and close attention to their needs?
3. How can we continue to develop a culture where we value each other, respect each other, and provide direct feedback to each other in ways that ensure a successful Service Department Online?
4. What are the best ways for us to develop strategies to carry us forward?
5. What will be the key elements of the way we relate to clients so as to achieve maximum benefit for Service Department Online and our clients?


1. What activities by teachers most impact on deep student learning?
2. What benefits do we expect from parent and community involvement in our school?
3. What major innovations should we implement?
4. What are the best ways to ensure that staff, students and families have an appropriate balance in their lives?
5. How do we design for the success of all students in our school?


“Thoroughly enjoyable!! I found the first day very interesting to see how others perceived the Inquiry Probes in my group and then to see all the other groups thought along the same lines. The ideas that were generated were brilliant which made voting and narrowing down even harder at the end of the day. The “no discussion” and 10-4 voting I feel were very successful. I actually couldn’t wait for today to see how everyone voted and to see our top ideas. I was very happy with the result!!”

“Thoroughly enjoyable two days. This has been a great experience as a whole staff. The process you use to obtain data and create the vision, and the whole research process, creates a sense of ownership for ALL staff members. There are few other ways to unify a staff so rapidly and to clarify where they are going so well.”

“I’ve been here a zillion years and I’ve never experienced the degree of consensus in a shared vision for this organization as I have felt in the last two days.”

“What a process! I have to admit I was very sceptical (what! Two days and 80 odd people to come up with a MISSION STATEMENT??) I thought that’s what the executive did!!
However, I am now totally sold on the incredible process of reaching consensus with a large group of notoriously, ad nauseously, argument-oriented people. Getting such a diverse group with so many different agendas and axes to grind to be heading in the same direction is nothing short of miraculous.”

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