It has been more than 20 years since we first drew “The Canyon,” and yet it still evokes animated responses, chuckles, and reflections from anyone who sees it for the first time today. Why is that? As individuals, we each have our own unique points of view. How I view a situation probably isn’t how you view it. I recall years ago hearing that we all see the world as we are, not as it is. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if there is more than one person in the room, you’re guaranteed to have more than one mindset. Differing ideas often lead to great creativity and innovation. However, unaligned or varying points of view can sometimes stall a company in its pursuit of success. Why? Because people need to have a shared view of their organization – a common goal for the future – to unlock the ability to move forward.

Achieving a shared vision isn’t when you win everyone over with your amazing idea or opinion. Rather, it’s about understanding the end-all goal for the business. It’s about when you can see beyond the “I” and the “me” and realize that it’s “we” who will drive success. When people have a shared set of truths that they agree and align on, then the company is on the right path.

Getting on the Same Page

So, how do you unite a splintered group? It takes time and commitment from leadership and the company at large, and the know-how to help people think and act differently than they may be accustomed to. One tool we at Root Inc. use for our clients is The Canyon. It’s been very successful over the past 20 years in helping companies in all industries and across geographies find a “common ground” internally.

The premise for The Canyon is simple – capture how people at any level of an organization feel using icons, infographics, drawings, conceptual illustrations, and metaphors. The key to The Canyon’s success is to ensure that everyone is represented within it. So whether a C-suite executive, a middle manager, or even a newly hired intern looks at it, they see that The Canyon properly captures their situation and perspective. It’s about conveying to people at all levels that we know what it’s like to be them – validating their feelings and frustrations.

The Canyon works for three reasons:

  1. It captures what everyone in an organization feels. People instantaneously let their guard down when they feel understood.
  2. It frames all of the important issues/challenges, showcases all of the varied concerns, and provides a bird’s eye view of the big picture.
  3. It gives groups a way to talk about something they all care about but have not been able to address. The Canyon becomes the impetus for figuring out how to align, synchronize, and bridge the chasm.

It might seem simple, but The Canyon can accomplish great things. It’s the first step in getting people to move from a place of skepticism and cynicism to exploration, interest, hope, and advocacy for bringing the strategy to life. Because when you’re shown a clear picture of how you feel, you feel validated. As a result, you stop fighting so hard to get your point of view heard and you start to listen to those around you. And when this occurs, it’s possible for formerly fragmented organizations to realize they actually have a shared reality and a shared goal. People start communicating and working together to determine what actions to take to move forward. The conversations around The Canyon evolve from co-dissatisfied to co-operation, to co-creation of a better way.

For this to actually happen, an organization’s leadership team must set the tone. Many leaders struggle with common challenges, like viewing things from their unique vantage point rather than from the perspective of the organization as a whole, or being torn between too many priorities and directions. In some cases, leaders are wary about discussing an organization’s gaps because they see it as a flaw in their own leadership.

We often ask these questions of people observing The Canyon:

  • What do the leaders see?
  • What do the managers see?
  • What do the doers see?
  • Why don’t they all see the same thing?

The simple answer is everyone is only looking at a piece of the puzzle. However, when you can see the box top of the puzzle and see how it all fits together, you are much more empowered to solve the complexities of the puzzle.

Getting everyone to see the big picture of reality and think synergistically is necessary to drive strategic performance. Individual agendas must be put aside and the leadership team must work as a unified group, modeling the behavior they want to see from the rest of the organization as they work to bridge gaps – between people, among departments, and with customers.

When leaders work together to acknowledge and address the gaps in their organizations, a spirit of camaraderie takes hold and people become invested in each other’s success. The positive energy and excitement that comes from working together is infectious. This alone can sustain an organization working on closing gaps and heading toward success. Truthfully, it all ties back to The Canyon – if we can all agree on a picture of where we are, and if we can agree upon where we want to go, we all feel invested, connected, and essential to the future.

October 1, 2016


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