Effective goal-setting to reach your goals

Bridging from current reality to the desired future is simpler than you think!

An illustration of Bridge Building. | Photo by Lindsey Gardner
An illustration of Bridge Building. | Photo by Lindsey Gardner

When working with groups to define goals, you will need many idea-generating tools. Use of a visual or virtual bridge is one way to contrast current reality with a desired future, and brainstorm ways to bridge that gap. This tool can help your team define future goals in an hour or less.

According to Wikipedia, a bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley, or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle. “Bridge building” is a strategic thinking tool to help groups look at the gap between reality (NOW) and their future goals (WOW); and then generate action-oriented ideas to reach those goals (HOW).

You will need markers, flip chart paper or a long scroll of paper to tape to a smooth wall. Any size group can use this, but very large groups would best work in smaller clusters first, and then share consensus ideas with everyone.

Desired Future – the WOW section!

Think about your organization’s mission. Now think about issues or concerns that hinder your ability to be effective in your mission. What are some goals, within your organization’s control, that would move you closer to your desired future?         

Think silently for a few moments; jot down goal ideas, one per notecard or large post-it note. Have people share one idea at a time until all ideas have been recorded. List ideas on a flip chart and post it on the RIGHT side of a wall, or use the right end of a long sheet of rolled paper.

Current Reality – the NOW section

Ask the group to describe the current reality of those same issues or concerns. List ideas on another sheet and post it on the left side of the same wall, or use the left end of a long sheet of rolled paper.

Bridging the Gap – the HOW section

Now, brainstorm ways (actions) that could be taken to bridge the gap between the desired future and the current reality. List these ideas on another sheet and hang in the middle of the wall, or post in the middle of a long sheet of rolled paper. Encourage participation by all members of the group; go “round robin” to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak.

If there are a large number of ideas following brainstorming, you may need to help the group prioritize, to help decide which actions to take first.

Bridge Building is a process for goal setting, not a single tool. It is a collection of steps or tools often used in strategic planning/visioning when a group needs to solve a problem, or when an organization wants to create a future action plan.

This process is taught as part of the Michigan State University Extension Facilitative Leadership program, a three-day experiential workshop designed to build and strengthen the skills and personal confidence necessary to lead and facilitate productive meetings. 

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