The Cautionary Tale of the Flugadoos

All images by W, my husband

Come with me for a moment to the planet Zurgorg, home of the Flugadoos, gelatinous and kind pea-green creatures who move around very slowly in case they lose any of their gelatinous form and who think they are highly intelligent (but are actually a little less intelligent than they think since all this slow movement means their brains are always a little sleepy).

To protect their delicate forms from the Ubaloids that plummet to Zurgorg at high speed and cause serious and uncontrollable wobbling if they land nearby (we don’t talk about what happens when there’s direct impact), their global leader, the First of all the Flugs (known as the First Flug because it takes too long for a Flug to call her by her full title), has had a moment of inspiration.

The First Flug puts the call out to the leaders of the other Flugadoo nations and ten years later they gather, the First Flug high on a rock, a sea of Flugadoos dozily swaying below.

‘Tell us why you have gathered us, First Flug,’ speak the Flugadoos leaders as one.

‘I will,’ she replies. ‘Flugadoos, I am a very clever Flugadoo indeed. I have an answer to our greatest problem.’

‘Oooooh, do you know how to stop us glooping all over the place?’

‘I have an answer to our second greatest problem! We shall build a great structure in the sky that will protect Zurgorg — and all Flugadoos — from Ubaloid attacks. It will also have a range of other very useful properties that are too uninteresting to note here.’

There is a chorus of excited responses:

‘Oooooh, imagine that!’
‘Without fear of the final wobble, I could go for a swim when I liked.’
‘Nice one. My mate Jimmy lost a favourite aunt to an Ubaloid attack just last week.’

The First Flug continues, ‘I have spent the last ten years covering this rock here with the reasons why we’re building this great structure, detailed engineering plans including the sections you’re each responsible for, and an extra bit at the end about why I’m The First of all the Flugs. Read this, remember it, and then return to your communities and start building. Soon we will lose no more Flugadoos to the Ubaloids!’

A huge cheer goes up and the Flugadoo leaders get to work reading.

A week passes. Then four. Then ten. Finally, they finish; and, with some vague memory of why they were there in the first place (and some very sore heads from so much thinking), the leaders head off around the Zurgorg globe mostly remembering the last bit: they will lose no more Flugadoos to the Ubaloids!

Twenty years pass.

Then fifty.

After a hundred years of continued Ubaloid attacks, and with only the First Flug’s part of the umbrella having been built, she stops scratching her gelatinous head (always a dangerous thing to do in the first place) and puts the call out for the leaders to return.

Ten years later, they have gathered again.

‘We are here Great Flug! Why have you called us here?’ the leaders ask as one.

‘Why do you think? You were each to start building your part of the giant structure in the sky that would protect us from the Ubaloids! But still, they fall! Where is the giant umbrella?’

There is a chorus of confused responses:

‘What? I thought we were each supposed to eat a Flugadoo’s worth of ice cream every day.’
‘Wasn’t it something about building a giant statue of the First Flug and that would stop the Ubaloids? I wondered why nothing changed.’
‘I thought we were all supposed to catch the Ubaloids we could and put them to work in the farms. That’s what I’ve done.’

And, with a sinking heart, the First Flug realised that one hundred years had been wasted and the structure she’d imagined would never be built; and, with one last gurgle, glooped into a big pea-green glob. Seeing this, the rest of the leaders turned around and started the long journey home, forgetting before they got home why they’d left home in the first place.

They’d never know what life could have been like under the genius of the First Flug’s structure, and Jimmy lost two more aunts to Ubaloid attacks.

Don’t write everything down on a rockface

It’s a sad story. But one that we likely each recognise (in a slightly different form).

Most of us have been part of a team or organisation that’s crafted a vision or mission or shared values* to help us work well together and move in the same overall direction, only to find that we’re not all moving in the same direction, new team members or employees don’t work well together, and our vision or mission or shared values is gathering dust on a wall in the corner office that stores the broken photocopier.

(*Swap vision or mission for purpose, or why/what/how, or any phrasing that makes the most sense to you and your team or organisation. The terminology does not matter one iota. How you apply your purpose or why/what/how or vision or mission does).

Let’s take a minute to honour all the dust-gathering visions and missions and shared values that never got to fulfil their purpose.

That done, let’s explore how we can actually create and embed a shared direction and agreed ways of working.

The most useful tool we have

Most of us understand the importance of shared intentions and agreed ways of working. Shared intentions determine strategy, goals, and products. They shape how our work evolves and expands. Shared ways of working mostly stop us from punching each other.

But most of us have forgotten why we create them in the first place.

We don’t create visions, missions, or shared values so that they can be glanced over when we remember or when we accidentally head into the office with the broken photocopier on our way to the kitchen for a morning coffee. They’re not messaging tools to place on our websites so that we pull in more clients or sell more stuff. They’re not a way to fill a couple of hours on our team-bonding day when we can’t think of anything else to do. They’re not an exercise in pretty sentence writing. They’re not an essay that people ooh and ahh over, then a day later forget what they’ve read. They’re also not a branding exercise.

Missions, visions, and shared values are created to drive every single decision. To bolster creativity and initiative. To help us respond to real-time information. To saturate our working environment with our core values so that a new member of the team or organisation can immediately know how to be autonomous and represent us. To help our work and organisation evolve and pivot as needed. To guide us towards success; real success, which is less about money and more about satisfaction, and exploration, and innovation, and fun, and clients or purchasers that are fans-for-life.

Don’t know which client to work with next? Let your mission guide your decision. Hesitating about raising your prices? Let your values guide your decision. Don’t know what direction to go in next? Let your vision guide your decision. Don’t know whether you should increase your employee’s wages or start a new office? Let your purpose guide your decision.

Our visions, missions, and shared values should be our guide for every next step and decision made. They should be the most useful tool we have.

How not to be like the First Flug

Below are just some of the ways that you can craft and embed a shared direction and values that can usefully guide your teams, organisations, and communities.

1. Make them accessible
Use language that everyone can share. Instead of ‘Our vision is…’ or ‘Our purpose is…’ how about: ‘We are here to…’, ‘We make…’, or ‘We care about…’. Some people are alienated by terms like vision, mission, or purpose. Find the language you can all share and relate to.

2. Make them succinct
Don’t write long paragraphs. It’s hard to embed a shared direction if nobody can remember it. Find the clearest way to express the core aspect(s) without losing richness and nuance.

3. Utilise them for everything
Use them all the time. Refer to them when making your decisions. Use them in daily conversations and decision-making. Make them a daily reference point. And if you coach people within your team, use them as a coaching tool.

4. Make them useable
If people don’t remember them, they’re too wordy. If people don’t refer to them on a daily basis, they’re just dust-gathering tools. Make them the most useful tool you have.

5. Allow them to evolve
Keep checking in with each other on their usefulness and relevance. If they’re not useful or relevant, change them. Ask yourselves: Is this still true? Has something changed for us that means we’re changing why we’re here and what we’re working towards?

6. Support a feedback culture
Teach yourself and your team, organisation, or community to encourage, embed, and maturely respond to feedback on whether your shared direction and ways of working are actually relevant and useful. Notice if decisions or conversations are not being led by them; if they’re not being referred to in meetings and in comms channels, create new ones that will be. If you, your team, or your organisation is struggling to receive and give feedback, get external support or conflict training.

This is the fun bit

Discovering what’s really important to your organisation or team is the fun bit! Through constantly applying your vision, mission, or values to your decisions, you’ll find the mission statements that need a bit of tweaking, or the values that sounded great at the time but aren’t so relevant to the everyday lives of the people in certain departments or teams.

If you’re struggling where to start, start at the outside and work your way in with some questions: What is the work you do? What’s at the heart of that? What keeps reoccurring when you look at the different clients you work with or the different projects your team completes?

With this information, you can now ensure that you don’t do what the First Flug did.

And we can all stop creating visions and missions and shared values stuck up in a back office. Although, they’re often the only things keeping that lonely broken photocopier company…

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Anna-Marie Swan

Anna-Marie Swan

Organisational design, governance, facilitation, and strategy. https://annamarieswan.com/