One of the challenges in doing long-range planning is getting all the key players on the same page. You may assume that you have the same vision for the organization as do the other leaders or board members, but that is not always the case.

A quick exercise to gauge alignment involves four squares. Participants are given a large sheet of paper and asked to fold it into quarters. Individuals then draw the same image in four stages: one depicting the organization a year ago, one showing it today, another representing the organization a year from now and a final drawing of what they hope the organization looks like in three years.

The time frames can be altered to fit your specific situation (eg: use five years if you’re starting work on a five-year plan), but having participants draw the image rather than using words seems to be a key ingredient of its effectiveness (even though you’ll get some protesters who claim they cannot draw). Any image can be used; I’ve seen houses, playgrounds, cars, boxes, flowers, pizzas, and stick figures just to name a few.

Once the drawings are completed, participants each explain their squares to the whole group. You’ll be able to tell very quickly how much agreement (or not!) there is about where the organization is and where it is headed – whether that be from a position of strength or weakness and whether toward growth or retrenchment. A facilitator or chairperson can use that as a launching pad for directed discussion toward understanding and ultimately consensus.

P.S. The 4 Squares exercise works like a vision board for personal goals, too. Plot out your path and use it to check progress toward your goal!

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