A common object-ive is completely subject-ive.
My colleagues and I find that most people who tell us that, in their group, they have a common objective they are all working towards are actually working at cross purposes, at best. What most people call a common object-ive is completely subjective–they are actually working on their own subjective understanding of what the means and ends are. This common object-ive is not a deeper shared purpose, and here is why the difference between a common object-ive and a deeper shared purpose matters.
To co-host collaboration, we start with uncovering, understanding, and naming the deeper shared purpose that pulls a group of people together and guides their interactions. We are trying to find out why these people come together to work together towards something they hold together. A common object-ive does not answer this question.
When most people say they have a common objective, they are actually saying that they are each working on something that influences the same distant object. Group A works on building schools in poor regions, so that kids can go to school. Group B trains bilingual teachers, so that kids from different cultures can have access to a basic education. Group C provides free lunches as incentive to parents to let their kids go to school. All three groups are working on a common object-ive of giving kids an education. When the leaders of Groups A, B, and C came together, they told us that they were clearly working on the same object-ive, educating children. And, it was clear that they were not working on a shared deeper purpose, as they were not working on these three seemingly interrelated dimensions of access to education together, as they were often not even working in the same regions of the country. Yes, there were schools, with no teachers or students. Or yes there were teachers, with no schools or students. And, there were students, with no schools or teachers. The three groups were not working on the same, deeper, shared purpose. Working apart, from different perspectives, in different areas, towards a common object.
Seeing parts and a common object does not make a system of interrelated parts towards a common purpose. Moving different parts at a common object is not leveraging a system of interrelated parts towards a shift in systemic behavior. By a deeper shared purpose, we mean working together towards leveraging a system of interrelated parts to shift a systemic behavior–showing up in the same place, in a coordinated fashion, to provide schools and teachers and students with access to an education. This coordination requires a different kind of theory of change, one that we have called a theory of impact resilience.
How do you know whether you have (1) a common object-ive or (2) a deeper shared purpose? I suggest you immediately have three pieces of evidence you can use to triangulate to determine which you have.
- Language. Start with the language of what the groups holds to be common.
- If it is a common object-ive, it might sound like, “We work on X to get Y–building schools to educate kids. We do W to get Z–developing bi-lingual pedagogy to give bi-lingual children access to schooling.” Each is working on a means to what looks like a common object. No mention of working in a coordinated way with other means to that same ends, as a system. For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
- If it is a deeper shared purpose, it might sound like, “We are working with the groups that develop all of the required dimensions of the educational system for kids in this region, all of which are necessary to provide equitable access. We are trying to figure out together how to shift our work, together, to get a different outcome for these children, in the same place at the same time.” For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
- Experience. Describe what it is like to work within this group.
- If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups describe an experience of competition amongst the different members trying to achieve the common object-ive or low levels of co-operation amongst the members–often competing to get funding from the same sources. These often feel like the inner to middle circle of the vibrancy experience, tiring and an endless struggle.
- If it is a deeper shared purpose, we find groups usually describing an experience of collaboration amongst the different members, inviting and inspiring each member to make their best unique contribution. This is often described as the outer circle of the vibrancy experience, invigorating and life-giving.
- Expectations. Observe what the group and the members of the group expect of each other’s contributions to the group.
- If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups either (a) do not have clear expectations of what you could or should contribute, or (b) see the contributions as interchangeable–if you won’t do it, we can find someone else who can.
- If it is a deeper shared purpose, we see that most groups are very clear on why you are specifically invited to make your unique contribution to the group–you are needed and your contribution is unique and critical–you are not interchangeable with anyone else.
As you look at your own group’s “common goal,” here are three guiding questions, which frame the process we call the harmonic vibrancy move process.
- Do you have a shared unifying objective for the whole system? We call this the deeper shared purpose.
- Do you have a shared unified theory of how all the parts fit together and influence the dynamics of the whole and how to shift the dynamics of the whole? We call this the systemic view of why the different voices are required.
- Do you have a unified theory of intervention for each perspective’s best contribution to collaboratively and collectively shifting that behavior efficiently? We called this systemic leverage.