Extraordinary Team Blog

Defining the difference between team mission and team vision is time well-spent

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 26, 2007

Q. What’s the difference between mission and vision? Our team is spending a lot of time on defining our mission and vision. Why do we have to do this?

A. I can understand your confusion over “the vision thing.” Many people get confused over mission and vision. So let’s start with some simple definitions:

The mission defines your team’s core purpose or reason-for-being as concisely and clearly as possible. The mission is the foundation for all team’s efforts. It defines what the team does, and more importantly, defines what it doesn’t do.

A vision, on the other hand, is the team’s declaration of its future. Vision is a long term, over-arching team goal. The vision typically states:

  • What and where the team wants to be: A vivid description of the most desirable future.
  • When the team wants to achieve this… usually three to seven years in the future.

A well-crafted vision paints the picture of the preferred future and can energize a team to move forward in a unified direction. It should excite and inspire the team so that all their actions can support the expressed vision.

Quite simply, a mission describes what business your team is in. It defines what you do. Vision describes where you are going. It is possible that a mission can be stated within a vision, and a vision can be stated within a mission…and then everyone gets confused!

Regardless of what you call it, there are some great reasons why teams should spend some time defining what they do (mission) and where they are going (vision):

  • It provides a sense of purpose and direction to the team.
  • It helps to distinguish your team from others and describe your team’s uniqueness.
  • It gives your team a starting point for defining their strategies, goals and structure.
  • And it becomes a basis for making critical and daily decisions.

Is it worth the time to define the mission and vision? You bet. Otherwise, you have a bunch of individuals working on their own goals and agendas. Just don’t get bogged down in terminology. A statement(s) about what you do and where you are going is the “glue” that holds the team together.

Unfortunately, many teams agonize over mission and vision, wordsmithing the statements until they are perfect. In the meantime, it drains all the energy from the team!

When crafting your mission/vision, let the team contribute the main thoughts, words, phrases, insights and then let a few volunteer team members wordsmith the statement “off-line.” This will save the entire team time, energy, and they’ll remain positive and upbeat about their purpose and direction.