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Core Elements

Elements of the Core

By Jim and Michele McCarthy

When multiple people share a vision, they are holding similar or identical imaginary objects in multiple minds simultaneously. Such a multi-personal capability can be used to augment or even replace other, more costly, less pleasurable techniques and tools that are used to delineate that which does not exist. Your team would likely benefit from being in a state of shared vision, if it’s not in such a state already. The Core V3.x offers tools that can move your team into a state of shared vision.

The Core 3.x is the current version of the “software” in our book, “Software For Your Head.” The Core is a system for everyday use among collaborators, technical and non-technical alike. The Core is made up of four different types of things: a) Patterns, b) Antipatterns, c) Definitions, and d) Interpersonal Protocols. The first three are things you read and think about, and the Core Protocols are things which you read and think about and do. This article surveys the terrain covered by The Core V3.x, briefly defining all the elements of it.

The Core Protocols are the most important part of The Core, because they prescribe specific behaviors, behaviors we have found lead to favorable results for the person doing the behaving. This has proven true in virtually all cases over 19 years (as of 6/2015) of The Core’s continuous development. The Core Protocols are really the only things that a Core adopter visibly adopts. While we believe that all of the ideas expressed in The Core are useful, we have actually seen the behaviors specified in the Core Protocols work, time and time again. The difference between a belief and the results of acting on a belief is all the difference of the world.

If your team would like to get to a state of shared vision in the shortest amount of time possible, and with the greatest possible effect, adoption of The Core Protocols is likely the best bet available. Of course, your adoption of the Protocols will be greatly simplified – and both your adoption and ongoing operating costs reduced – by an understanding of the Patterns and Antipatterns surrounding them. But you will never experience the true beauty of The Core unless you personally adopt Core protocols. Imagine that you have an architect’s design in hand for a new building. You can imagine the final building more fully than you could without such a document; but you will not enjoy the protection and features of the building until you inhabit it. Then, you will know the architect’s skill, or suffer its absence. The Core’s design intent is revealed in its adoption rather than its postulation or analysis.

Four Steps to Shared Vision.

Before your team can achieve a state of shared vision, you must accomplish some level of mastery over four distinct areas, and do so both iteratively and in sequence:

  1. Checking In, the management of personal presence, covered in Section I of the Core.
  2. Deciding, practicing unanimous decision-making, covered in Section II of the Core.
  3. Aligning, disclosing motive and setting goals, covered in Section III of the Core.
  4. Envisioning, creating shared vision, covered in Section IV of the Core.

The following presents a very brief introduction, organized by the four major sections, to all the elements of The Core V3.x.

Part I: The Elements of CheckIn

Whether the members of a team are dispersed across the world or crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in rows of cubicles, distance is always the central issue among collaborators. The remedy for distance is presence.

The Check In Protocol

The CheckIn protocol provides two major components for establishing and developing high-performance collaboration: an enlistment procedure and an interpersonal connectivity process. The former (re)affirms each individual’s commitment to a body of proven efficiency-enhancing behaviors. The latter provides individuals with an opportunity to efficiently reveal their personal states.

CheckIn begins with a rich, interactive roll call. This is its connective component. Conventionally, a roll call provides a way to determine who is physically present. With the CheckIn protocol, each team member can also disclose the character and the disposition of his presence. While an ordinary roll call asks, “Who is present?” the CheckIn pattern also asks, “What’s going on with you?”

Each individual CheckIn culminates in a brief statement (that is, “I’m in”) that renews the individual’s commitment to seek efficiency and to “play by the rules” of The Core.

The CheckOut Protocol

Occasionally, an individual will take a break from the intense levels of productive engagement required by The Core. The CheckOut protocol makes such breaks possible and minimizes any disruption to the rest of the team.

The Passer Protocol

The Passer protocol serves as a safety valve for the entirety of The Core protocols. It provides a means for any individual to decline to participate in a Core protocol or process without being questioned by the other team members. With few exceptions, any team member can pass on any activity associated with The Core protocols at any time, for any reason, without extra scrutiny.

Connection is a pattern that describes the process and benefits of mutual presence.

Problem Behaviors

There are reasons that the higher degrees of individual presence aren’t routinely found in teams that do not use The Core. The attitudes and behaviors we have seen repeatedly are captured in three presence-related antipatterns: TooEmotional, NoHurtFeelings and WrongTolerance

Too Emotional

When you encounter intense emotion at work, you often feel that someone is being too emotional. This condition usually arises when normal, everyday emotion, after being too long repressed, suddenly erupts. When emotions are processed in this delayed, bursty, and unpredictable way, the behavior that results often is, or seems, ineffective or self-destructive. The problem, though, is not that the person is too emotional. He is not emotional enough.

No Hurt Feelings

This common antipattern describes the bad decisions and ineffective steps that people take to avoid telling one another the truth.

Wrong Tolerance

Tolerance is not always a virtue. Behaviors that don’t work should not be tolerated. But they are.

Patterns Synergistic with Check In

CheckIn depends on several other patterns also covered in Part I.

Team = Product

The Team = Product pattern identifies and mediates group problems by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of the team with the characteristics of its products. Applying the Team = Product pattern supplies ample and effective team diagnostics.


The Self-Care pattern describes the desirable effects that accrue to a team when each person on it is responsible for taking care of one person and one person only: himself.

Thinking and Feeling

The Thinking and Feeling pattern describes the benefits and delineates the surprisingly challenging practice of thinking and feeling simultaneously.


The Pretend pattern identifies the importance of experimenting with beliefs and performing thought experiments as a way to discover effectiveness.

Greatness Cycle

The GreatnessCycle pattern identifies a desirable group value system and describes in practical terms some of the behaviors that embody those values (smarts, presence, integrity, conflict, passion, and greatness). The sequence of GreatnessCycle is laid bare, and the pattern depicts how the application of one value leads to the next.

When smart individuals intensify their presence (a requisite characteristic of smartness), their resulting expressions of integrity lead to conflict. Conflict, in turn, will tend to line people up behind what they care about, which is, at heart, the definition of passion. The maturing of passion creates the conditions that allow for great results.

It is unlikely that a team will consistently attain excellence, and get its shot at greatness, without experiencing this cycle.

Part II: The Elements of Decider

Decider’s central feature is its protocol. In turn, the Decider protocol’s most distinctive characteristic is that all team decisions must be unanimous. It is a byproduct of unanimous team support that dissemination of decision accountability takes place, without thinning it down or clumping it up. By explicitly “signing up” each team member in support of every team decision, Decider delivers on both its purposes.

The accountability derives from the right of any team member to make a proposal that is resolved immediately, combined with each team member’s capability to effectively veto any team proposal. Individuals who don’t agree with a proposed plan of action must merely vote “no.” A single, persistent “no” vote from any team member will kill a proposal, no matter how many others support it.

A Decider world is airtight with respect to accountability and empowerment leaks. Typical commitment-phobic tendencies are purged from the team as its decisions are made. The regular excuses and exculpatory stories often used to rationalize ongoing half-heartedness or failure are neutralized up front by the team’s simple requirement: unanimity before action.

Common self-defeating behaviors have always been theoretically unacceptable, but are often tolerated. In a Decider-driven team, such self-destructive patterns will be more visible, so they can be explicitly rejected in the most useful (and hence supportive) way. All team members can make proposals (indeed, are required to when they believe they have the best idea), and all are required to support those that pass. Going forward only with explicit commitments from all to behave so as to achieve the team’s purposes provides tremendous leverage.

This vivid and total accountability stands in stark contrast to the more common circumstance: No one is quite sure who decided which steps the team would take. With unanimity-based self-governance, virtually all team failures can be clearly traced to particular breakdowns of personal integrity. Moreover, because individual and communal integrity lapses can be easily traced to their point of origin, their frequency is reduced. Common potential excuses are eliminated at the voting stage when Decider is the driving decision-making process.

The Decider group decision-making process includes two components:

  • The Decider protocol structures the initial steps that a team takes toward a unanimously supported decision. Given a proposal, it will yield either an adopted plan or a rejected proposal.
  • Many times, however, there is an intermediate stage prior to full acceptance or rejection. An initial Decider vote results in a majority-supported proposal, but not a unanimously supported one. The Resolution protocol is then used to either upgrade the level of team support to unanimity, or kill the proposal altogether.
    Other Decision-Related Elements
  • Beyond using Decider and Resolution, maximizing the effectiveness of team decisions and team decision-making will depend on the team’s understanding and application of another important Core pattern (EcologyofIdeas) as well as the consistent use of an additional Core protocol (IntentionCheck).

The Ecology of Ideas Pattern

The team mentality is sustained by a constant stream of fresh ideas flowing from individual team members. The rate of flow, as well as the depth and quality of the ideas, determines the vitality of the team mentality. These factors are a function of the connectedness of the team members. When the connections are good, the ideas act synergistically rather than as a collection of individual contributions. Personal attachment to ideas of mixed lineage is less important here than in more compartmentalized environments. Indeed, every idea worthy of being considered is properly articulated by someone. Every articulated idea is released into a more nourishing milieu, rather than championed into a hostile one. Ultimately, each idea must compete with and connect to other ideas, and it must establish its own place in the team’s mental ecology.

As a consequence, the qualities of the ideas themselves must suffice to animate and propel the ideas forward. Their own vitality must ensure their realization and development: in the minds that think them, in the memories they leave, and especially in the objects produced by the team after encountering the idea. An idea’s persistence in the creatively rich environment of a mature team will be determined by its degree of attractiveness, and its accessibility to the multiple curious minds on the team.
If a team desires to develop the most robust team mentality, its members will study EcologyofIdeas, and then create their own implementation of it.

The Intention Check Protocol

The IntentionCheck protocol helps you assess the quality of your intentions before speaking, deciding, or acting on them. To a lesser extent, it can help you assess the intention of others by weighing their words and actions.


The degree of success in adopting Decider is also contingent on the team’s avoidance of several antipatterns. Decision-making and accountability issues will, if not addressed by all members, lead to ineffective behavior. Most teams working without The Core will already be trapped in some of these antipatterns.

Resolution Avoidance

ResolutionAvoidance occurs when you create or prolong conflict, believing that you can avoid it. People who think of themselves as “conflict avoidant” are often “resolution avoidant.”

Oblivious Action

Oblivious Action occurs when you act or speak while your higher cognitive faculties are “looking the other way.” These cognitive faculties might have guided you to better results. In some ways, ObliviousAction is the opposite of intentionality.

Turf is a common anti-strategy that precludes the benefits from EcologyofIdeas. If your respect of role ownership causes you to forgo ideas, reject leadership, or avoid desirable things, you are turf-building.

Boss Won’t Yield

This antipattern arises when an authority figure attempts to slow or stop a team from getting results because he doesn’t understand or accept their methods or vision, or because he doesn’t understand the actual power dynamics.

Part III: The Elements of Aligner

In Parts I and II, we explored two of the three interdependent stages in the intentional team formation processes:

  • Optimizing presence via increased disclosure and true engagement
  • Aggregating value and managing accountability via unanimity

We now turn to the fullness of team formation: the establishment of personal and team alignment. This process is captured in the Alignment pattern and its related protocols. Part III also introduces the patterns required by Alignment: Investigate, Receptivity, AskforHelp, and WebofCommitment. Investigate and Receptivity help the team define individual goals. WebofCommitment is basically the group instance of the individual AskforHelp and focuses on the mechanics of how the team achieves its goals. Part III also describes AlignMe, an antipattern that commonly impedes the success of a team, and discusses unhealthy types of Alignment avoidance.

Alignment is the bringing together of diverse elements into a desirable orientation with one another. TeamAlignment occurs when each team member knows what he wants for himself and what he wants from the team, and what others want for themselves and from him (the terms wants and goals are used interchangeably).

Obviously, your personal goals matter more to you than do corporate goals. Personal goals explain why you are involved. If a team knows what each of its members wants, then each person can get support from his teammates to achieve it. When others know your goal and have explicitly committed to supporting you in attaining it, then your responsibilities are altered: You can be held accountable for behaving in a way that will yield what you say you want. If you persist in sabotaging your own goals, moreover, then you can be expected to change either your goals or your behavior. When the facts of what you actually want are acknowledged, then you can radically increase your results-to-effort ratio by applying AskforHelp.

Personal goals motivate people; team goals motivate teams. Team goals are derived from product visions, and product visions derive from personal goals. The fundamental motivational unit is the personal goal. The integration of personal goals with product visions, product visions with team and company goals, and all goals with their ultimate achievement, is central to establishing and maintaining the flow of motivation, accountability, and behavior that leads to excellence. The integrity of this system of achievement is supported most explicitly by two Core protocols, WebofCommitment and PersonalAlignment.

It’s difficult to integrate the interests, dreams, and visions of every member of a team, and those of every team on the team of teams that constitutes a contemporary company. Apparently, it is considered too difficult, because usually the effort is simply never made. Perhaps it seems impractical or without value. People who do attempt to achieve this integration will attain their objectives more easily than those who don’t. This difference arises because of the genuine accountability found in a system where people state explicitly what they want and have aligned the team’s and the company’s interests with their own. The greater alignment provides for greater commitment than does a system in which the relations among these critical elements is summarily dispensed from on high or, more likely, not at all.

The problem is not just the general state of ignorance about alignment; it is compounded by the lack of standard means of achieving it, knowing that it has been achieved, and monitoring the state of alignment over time. The absence of interpersonal communications standards of this type restricts access to the aggregate vitality. This failure results in inefficiency and promotes chaotic lifestyles. The tolerance of mediocrity becomes the default practice for everyday life.

Even though Alignment is a single Core pattern, it has broad implications in the context of a Core team. It has extensive associations with a number of subsidiary patterns and protocols, and it touches on every aspect of SharedVision and product delivery.

Part IV: The Elements of Shared Vision

What is a SharedVision if it doesn’t result in-or come from-a common point of view? Note that SharedVision is not a statement or a goal, but rather an existential phenomenon-a state of being a mature team that is intentionally attained. The SharedVision pattern describes how to accomplish this “multipersonal” state.

In The Core, SharedVision is an overarching pattern that describes the application of the team’s collective imagination to the problem of formulating a group intention. This intention provides an “architecture of purpose” that will support the realization of that intention over time. The SharedVision pattern has several effects:

  • It provides the context for the ongoing application of the team’s PersonalAlignments.
  • It supports both long- and short-term team objectives.
  • It defines a lexicon for the elements of contemporary team vision building.
  • It describes protocols for efficient, high-quality vision building.
  • It enables the creation of meaningful vision statements. The SharedVision pattern integrates the essential components of vision. It represents the intersection of all vision-related elements in The Core. As a consequence, this pattern is tightly coupled with the following patterns:
  • Metavision: the vision of visions
  • FarVision: an imaginary picture of the world as it will be when the team finishes its work
  • Version: a sequence of discrete product visions and product releases, each of which represents a step toward the realization of the FarVision
    The SharedVision pattern also depends on the CheckIn, Decider, and Alignment patterns.

Experiencing Shared Vision and articulating a vision statement always signal the start of a team’s intentional creation of products. This result is the first fruit of a team-a promise of things to come.

Patterns Involved in the Shared Vision Process

Shared Vision

The SharedVision pattern describes the achievement of a pleasurable and efficient group state of being. The members of a team in this state have a unified mode of perception and a profound sense of connection with one another. The group sees and feels as one. All team members in a state of SharedVision see team-relevant things in essentially the same way. None of the team members sees things as he would see them alone. The experience is generally thought to be superior to a more isolated one.

The principal effects of SharedVision derive from the group’s continuous validation that an object of compelling beauty and importance can be, and will be, achieved by its combined thinking and intense, concerted action. Attempting a goal like that typically found in a vision statement of this class of team requires substantial ambition.

The SharedVision object is something that each team member would most likely see as impossible to attain on an individual basis, were it not for the ongoing validation and sustained support of the other team members. The object itself is-or at least becomes-loaded with supreme meaning for the team. Nothing is more important.

The team’s commitment to attaining the SharedVision object is a passionate one. So animated is the team’s fervor that the only real difference between a shared delusion and a SharedVision is the rational, step-by-step behavior of those experiencing the vision, which contrasts with the irrational and often random behavior of those experiencing a delusion. When examining the team besotted with a SharedVision, a third-party observer might decide that, although the fulfillment of the team’s ambition is unlikely, it is just possible that members of this group could achieve it. “If anybody can do it,” the observer might well say, “this team can.”

The members of a team in a state of SharedVision perceive most important things similarly, because they hold the same beliefs about their purpose as a team, the products they will make, and the process they will use to make them. Usually, they share a few key generative algorithms about what they are making and why.


The Metavision pattern deals with the role of visions, their importance, their use, and their development. A credible Metavision incorporates an understanding of the technologies for creating, maintaining, and ensuring the fulfillment of visions throughout an institution. It represents the ideal. Many times, however, a subgroup or even just a single small team may arrive at its own guiding Metavision, because the institution as a whole lacks a prevailing credible Metavision. The formulation of a Metavision is one appropriate response when Blinder is rampaging in the environment beyond the team boundaries. It is useless to await the formation of a Metavision by someone else.

Far Vision

The FarVision pattern describes a team’s unanimously supported answer to the question “What will the world look like after the 20 (or another large number of) years we will be working together?”


The Version pattern presents the product vision, as well as the plan for and the process behind the current product release. The release always brings the world of the team’s FarVision a step closer.


Consistently placing technical things first leads to antipatterns of team behavior. In particular, the vision-related antipatterns in The Core, Blinder and Technicality, can ensnare and defeat technically bigoted organizations. The former antipattern is spawned when a group seeks to maintain its unalloyed ignorance of visions. The latter antipattern is achieved by mixing into the ignorance far too large a dose of technical matters.

Blinder produces the most extreme obtuseness regarding visions. Even milder cases of Blinder nourish an unhealthy lack of understanding of the role and purpose of visions.

Technicality results in a bloated valuation of mastery of technical details. This concentration is a wasteful emphasis for the team. Technicality rewards the technical mastery associated with a given project or job (rather than results) and punishes its perceived absence.

Both Blinder and Technicality will undermine a team’s capacity for the deeper experiences of SharedVision. Both antipatterns have effects that are as serious as they are common.

A Metavision is a vision of visions. Teams thrashing about, unwittingly hobbled by Blinder or infested with Technicality, necessarily suffer the inefficiencies and discomfort wrought by an incoherent Metavision. Conversely, a robust Metavision is the only effective remedy for Blinder and Technicality. A team’s Metavision is its seed vision.

If you are a member of a team in a state of SharedVision, you will also likely suffer from Recoil, a distressing syndrome that is felt most acutely immediately after you have experienced a genuine connection to your own and your team’s true power and potential for greatness. Recoil is liberally mixed up with the benefits of any new hope you may discover.

You will also seek a means to rapidly improve all you touch and do on your team. Your vision, and the hope that comes with it, will fade if the team members tolerate mediocrity. The inadequacy of contemporary Feedback, one common set of undesirable practices in contemporary life, will become apparent. Fortunately, the pleasures and the deep efficacy of the PerfectionGame will offer a genuine solution to the devilish problems associated with aggregating the desirable and purging the mundane outputs of your team.