Aligning on group direction: how to decide what you want & how you'll get there

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The following responds to questions raised in our structure and strategy workshops from members of groups that are either newly formed, or have not adopted alignment on a clear direction. This resource was developed from recommendations included in organizer-developed resources, from activist insights, and from direct consultation with HUB advisor Amara Possain. Included in the below article are suggestions for formulating a vision and mission, determining your group values and conduct, forming a theory of change and pointers for facilitating these meetings.

Introductory thoughts

1. Remember that none of this prep work is meaningful until you start doing things together! You can always revisit your agreements and direction at a later time. It's important not to get stuck in the process of making the 'perfect' statements to the point of never actually taking action. Give an action that is agreeable to the group a try, and debrief afterwards how it stacked up against your principles, values and purpose. Words don't have real meaning until you do something. -Amara Possain, HUB advisor'

2. Incorporate joyful, relationship-building opportunities throughout this process. It's important to build trust, so that folks are committed to the process and it's outcomes!

Step 1: Agreeing on your process

A great place to start is agreeing that your group wants to collectively build something! Responsibility for facilitating this process should be shared by at least 2 people. Throughout the process, think about leadership development in addition to the process of building your group. Rotate responsibilities to skill up members. -Amara Possain, HUB advisor

Conditions that support alignment [1]

It is suggested to hold some reflective discussions to solidify what you hope this process will achieve. Some potential goals for the alignment process include:

1. Alignment on purpose and vision
  • Agreement on what we want to achieve together.

2. Clarity on decision-making operations

3. Focus and boundaries

  • What are we trying to align around? What are the decisions that need to be made? What’s on the table? What’s off the table?
  • Define clearly what you hope to achieve in the alignment process (i.e. writing vision, mission and theory of change statements and implementation of a decision making process).

4. Trust

  • Issues around trust need to be dealt with directly, otherwise they will impede the group's work.

5. Group Expectations

  • Agreeing on expectations for group process and behaviour.

What if a member of our group disagrees with most of the groups decisions?

"It's okay to have many groups that approach social change in many different ways. When someone shows up and wants to change the direction entirely, we have to remind that there are many different ways to organize and work together and if someone disagrees with the approach, they can make their own group!" -Amara Possain, HUB advisor

Step 2: Visioning where you'll go, what you'll do and why (aligning on purpose and vision)

A vision statement explains what your group is aspiring to achieve. They are short phrases or sentences that convey your hopes for the future. [2]

Mission statements describe what the group is going to do and why it's going to do that. In other words, what you'll do, why, and for who. Your mission statement reminds members why you’ve come together.

Stages of forming vision and mission statements

1. Reflect and brainstorm ideas

  • In our learning circle on Mobilizing and activating members: recruitment and retention 101, when prompted with the question "why are you here?", many people responded with their desire to be with others who share similar values, who care about what they care about, and to navigate climate grief and fear by taking action with others. 

Other questions to reflect on:

  • What is the dream for our community?
  • What would we like to see change?
  • What do we see as the community's major issues?
  • What do you see as the community's major strengths and assets?
  • What do you think should be the purpose of this organization (or effort)?
  • Why should these issues be addressed?
  • What would success look like?

2. Write down sentences that summarize ideas from your discussions

  • You can do this individually and come together, or collectively. Ask for feedback to adapt the statements.

3. Review good vision and mission statements

A good vision statement is [3]  :

  • Understood and shared by members of your group
  • Broad enough to include a diverse variety of perspectives
  • Inspiring and uplifting to everyone involved in your effort
  • Easy to communicate (i.e. no more than 3 sentences).

For example...

“A world of fair, inclusive and caring societies, where white supremacy and patriarchy are things of the past and where people can live free from colonialism, exploitation and inequality, in all of its forms. A world where our societies operate in respect of the resource limits of the earth and support the survival of all forms of life. Where no population extracts and consumes an inordinate amount at the expense of others and one where all people, wherever they live, are protected from the effects of climate change and resource depletion.” -The HUB’s vision statement

A good mission statement is [4] :

  • Concise, but longer than vision statements.
  • Outcome-oriented. Explain the fundamental outcomes your group is working towards.
  • Inclusive and broad. Don't limit your statement in the strategies/sectors that may become involved.

For example...

“ challenges corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect, because our lives depend on it.”

4. Form your vision and mission statements! The following exercise by Mob Lab can be used to formulate your vision statement:

a) Give everyone a sheet of paper and things to write/draw with (or asked folks to take notes or draw in front of them if virtually meeting). Have each person draw their vision for the future. This is intentionally left vague, with no time frame, to allow participants to define the scope of the vision. Maximum 10 mins for the drawing exercise.

b) Everyone presents and talk about their drawing or writing (2 minutes each). While this is happening a facilitator takes notes on flip chart or virtual post-its capturing the highlights of what people say.

c) Once everyone has presented all images are posted on the wall (or virtual board) together. Ask participants what similarities they see. These should be big picture themes related to the long term vision.

d) From discussion, identify biggest themes and write them as statements that describe the long term vision for the campaign where everyone can see and access it.

Want an alternative to the above exercise? Check out the following exercises by ACT tools: 'future travel' exercise & magazine article exercise.

The following questions by ATC tools can be used to guide discussion and formulate your mission statement:

  • Who do we serve? Who do we not serve?
  • What do we provide? What do we not provide? 
  • What’s the benefit of what we provide?
  • We are unique because…
  • What are we really good at? What are we not really good at?
  • What will we do to fulfill our goals?
5. Revisit your vision and mission statements
  • We suggest revisiting your vision at least once a year to reflect on how your team is engaging with it. See the following

vision assessment tool from ATC.

  • A good rule of thumb is to restate your mission with your members at least once a month. It helps to keep members aligned and motivated.

Step 3: Determining what is important and how you'll work together (decision making, boundaries and expectations)

To define what's important and how you'll work together, you'll need to outline your collective values, principles and protocols. This is usually compiled in the form of a collective working agreement or a code of conduct. [5] These components help to form the basis for the team culture you hope to build.

Reminder: it's important to remember not to spend too much time bogged down on writing perfect working agreements! Start with what is most important to your collective. These agreements can be revisited and modified as concerns arise.

Coming up with a working agreement/code of conduct:

Hold initial reflections [6]

  • Why do you do this work? What motivates you personally?
  • What is most important for us for a good team environment?
  • What behaviours do we need to take individually and as a team to support and live our values?

  • Understanding components of a working agreement

    • Principles help to establish purpose and to further shape the overall mission. For example, fairness, integrity, and honesty. Principles drive values. Values are beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding specific issues or ideas. For example, we value authentic relationships and the rights of Indigenous Peoples to free, prior, and informed consent.
    • Principles and values are often written together. It is likely that you'll be able to draw principles and values from your discussions held to define your vision and mission.
    • Protocols are the ways that principles and values look in action; i.e. order, boundaries, practices; the how of working together.
    • By this stage if you haven't already, it would be helpful to choose a decision making framework that you'd like to use to work together. Please see the following wiki pages related to decision making: consensus decision making (suggestions for small groups) and modified consensus decision making (suggestions for large and small groups). See below for a suggested framework that can be implemented with some ease (if you do not have experience with decision making models).

    Review example group principles and protocols

    Example protocols from #Asians4BlackLives:

    • "Embrace Frontline Leadership, Center Blackness
      We understand that the path to liberation for all communities travels through the liberation of Black communities in America. When Black people have justice and liberation, we all move one big step closer to real freedom. To us, solidarity encompasses understanding that we will never be truly free till Black people are free. We will keep our messages and slogans on the theme of Black Lives Matter, not All Lives Matter.
    • We are committed to centering frontline leadership, and in this struggle that means centering Black organizations locally and nationally linked to this movement.
      With this commitment, we also understand that Black leaders and movements are not monolithic and we recognize some Black-led groups are also in (trans)formation stages. We respect and appreciate the diversity in their voices, strategies, and tactics, We will stay accountable to these diverse priorities specifically in relation to goals, vision, message, tone and choreographing of actions. We will raise our voices with, not above, those of Black people in this movement."

    Other examples of protocols might include, for example [7]  :

    • Engage tension, don't indulge drama
    • WAIT- Why am I talking?
    • Make space, take space



    Example principles from Allied Media Project:

    "Every year we face new challenges and opportunities. Our work changes constantly, and there is no perfect formula for how we do this work. Embedded throughout our organizing is a set of principles which we have distilled from listening to our network.

    • We are making an honest attempt to solve the most significant problems of our day.
    • We are building a network of people and organizations that are developing long-term solutions based on the immediate confrontation of our most pressing problems.
    • Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems.
    • We emphasize our own power and legitimacy.
    • We presume our power, not our powerlessness.
    • We spend more time building than attacking.
    • We focus on strategies rather than issues.
    • The strongest solutions happen through the process, not in a moment at the end of the process.
    • The most effective strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting systems of oppression because those solutions tend to be the most holistic and sustainable.
    • Place is important. For the AMC , Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference.
    • We encourage people to engage with their whole selves, not just with one part of their identity.
    • We begin by listening."

    Write your principles and protocols!

    UN Green New Deal's red/green lines exercise can be helpful when determining your principles and protocols. It makes articulating what members of the group do and do not want easier. 

    • Red lines are the things that absolutely cannot be included in our group.
    • Green lines are the things that we want.

    Applying red/green lines to group principals might look like...

    • Green line: We engage in non-violent protest only.
    • Red line: We do not engage in the following, which we define as violence: _______

    Or for example: 

    • Green line: We speak up and engage in actions that support LGBTQIAS2+
    • Red line: Homophobia will not be tolerated 

    Discussing ideas as red/green lines which you do and do not cross as a group can help as a facilitation tool. You can have people individually mention some 'green and red lines' that they hope the group will engage, and then discuss as a team, or (and what we recommend) use this as a sticky note activity. Have people brainstorm ideas that can each be discussed as a group after as red or green lines.

    If you'd prefer another exercise to define your values, see this values creation exercise by ATC tools.

    Choose a decision-making framework if you haven't already

    If you've never tried to implement a decision making framework, we suggest trying Adrienne Marie Brown's 'proposal-based' method [8] as follows:

    a) "Identify the area where a decision is needed and have an exploratory conversation to find out where the group's preferences and concerns are." Say yes to all ideas in the brainstorm stage.

    b) "Based on that conversation and any additional research, one person or sub-group can develop a proposal that represents that discussion,"

    -Structure a proposal that says what you want to do, why it serves the mission or the group. Give people time to review proposals!

    c) Review the proposal together and make a decision.

    -Get responses to clarification questions, stay open to amendments but generally the exploratory discussion process prior to proposals should prevent many.

    Possible outcomes at this point:

    A: Everyone feels good and affirms the proposal

    B: People feel mostly good, offering small amendments until the proposal is affirmed. You can use tools like "thumbs up" to measure agreement."

    C: People have major changes or a different direction.​​​​​​​

  • Alignment step 4: Moving towards action using a theory of change

    Once your group is aligned on where you want to go, why, and how you'll get there, you can move towards defining more concretely how you'll put these into action.

    As described by Ella Baker [9] , a strategic process defines your approach (the milestones and tactics) used to achieving change. Before moving from your group alignment process to your campaign strategic process, you should define your theory of change (TOC).

    A TOC is your hypothesis about how to organize your resources to affect those who hold the resources/power to solve the problem. See our definitions page on theory of change for an overview.

    The general format for a TOC is: if we do (TACTICS) then (STRATEGIC GOAL or CHANGE) because (REASON). 

    Turning alignment into action: planning a campaign

    Once you've drafted a rough TOC, you can begin to define the strategy you'll use to put the alignment of your team into action. Please see the following wiki page for information on these next steps: What is the right way to come up with a campaign strategy?

    In sum, you'll want to define some short/mid-term campaign goals and strategies based on your TOC, and with consideration for your available resources, capacity and leverage points. If your team is divided on a campaign direction, create working groups that carry out separate campaigns, reporting back to and seeking support from the whole team.

    Facilitation pointers for the alignment process and beyond

    General pointers from Adrienne Maree Brown's Emergent Strategy [10] :

    • Reflect on: Why are we meeting? What can this group uniquely accomplish?
    • Initial meeting goals can include relationship building, to strengthen trust within the group and therefore resilience and capacity to move together.
    • Develop an adaptable, spacious agenda so participants can shape meetings. Most conversations need about 1.5 hours to cover orientation around content, identify what's needed, and next steps.
    • "There is a conversation in the room that wants and needs to be had. Don't force it, don't deny it. Let it come forth."
    • Be honest about the group's capacity. Assess how much time people have regularly to put into the work ahead of time.
    • "Know when to say yes and when to say no. Yes to those things that deepen the gathering- cultural grounding, local welcome, clarifying questions." "Yes to singing, bio breaks (bathroom, fresh air, snacks, self care), ending early (when the group has run out of energy for the day)." "No to judgment, delays, circular conversations, and people who are rejecting the process while offering no alternatives."
    • Always finish with discussing elegant next steps, or those which acknowledge "what is known and unknown, and what the capacity of this group actually is."
    • "Your mission should be brief and clear, so that you can refer to it at moments of decision, at forks in your organizational road. It should resonate with everyone in the organization."

    Key conversations to hold as a team (that should be held once a year):

    -Meeting for reflection and evaluation

    -Meeting for applying lessons from reflection to the next steps (planning)

    -Meeting for visioning, emerging, skill development etc.

    -How do we do our best... visioning? Learning? 

        i.e. some members might prefer reading/watching and reflecting together, others might prefer open dialogue, others might prefer being given something to reflect or create from

    ​​​​The following is an example agenda template applying these pointers:

    -Welcome (honor the land, place and people)


    -Overview of goals, agenda, agreements

    -Framing: Why us, here and now?

    -Brainstorming discussion

    -Harvesting ideas

    -Meaning making

    -Closing with appreciations for each other and the land

    For more on holding group meetings, see the following resource featured on the Commons Library.

    If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

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