Alignment is the most important work of leaders. The moment when a team is aligned, all its members work in tandem. Well-aligned teams free up time for leaders to focus on company growth and individual development instead of putting out internal fires. Change is constant and so is the effort to align – well aligned teams continuously practice alignment. It is the work of leaders.
An Invaluable Investment
All sorts of changes can knock a company out of alignment, including new teammates, customers, competitors, investments, and information.
While the act of alignment can first be uncomfortable, dedicated time to align is far less uncomfortable than ignoring issues:
- Alignment checks take very little time – one person states an understanding and everyone else gives the thumbs-up.
- Misaligned teams can work at cross-purposes for months, costing time, money and often talent – a large price avoidable by a single hour-long discussion.
Top-performing teams hold casual alignment conversations at least every month and deep dives at least quarterly. They also align on an ad hoc basis whenever uncertainty arises. These simple alignment conversations ensure everyone is going in the same direction.
Tactics for Achieving Alignment
To achieve alignment, look at every step of its lifecycle:
1. Enable everyone to flag alignment issues
Everyone works in groups, so every person needs to feel aligned. It should be reasonable for any teammate to call an alignm
ent meeting simply by saying “I’m getting different messages on this topic. I think we need to be aligned.” Even if you feel like your team is aligned,
listen to team mates when they offer alternate experiences. Welcome new opportunities to align!
2. Permit preparation
Alignment should be a normal part of internal operations. Scheduled alignment conversations enable your teammates to gather any necessary data or perspectives that might facilitate a conclusion.If the topic isn’t particularly fraught, share this information in advance of the meeting to save time. If emotions are likely to run high, consider sharing this information together, when human presence can cause cooler heads to prevail.
3. Facilitate with empathy
At the outset of an alignment conversation, create a conducive environment that prioritizes:
- Listening rather than speaking
- Understanding and aligning rather than winning
If the topic is tense or hotly-debated, you can avoid tension by recruiting a third-party facilitator to lead the conversation. These facilitators are most effective when they want the team to succeed but are outcome-agnostic about the issue in question. (As you improve at alignment, you can increasingly act as your own facilitator, ensuring everyone is heard without unfairly biasing any viewpoint.)
4. Find common denominators
When cross-functional individuals or teams are feuding, an underlying agreement may help them realign. Sales and marketing are a demonstrative example: a focus on revenue can enable agreement while misalignment may abound if each simply aims at its own metrics.
5. Pause and choose
If an alignment conversation raises lots of new information, consider delaying a decision for a few days. This time can enable teammates to digest and reflect:
- Introverts may need reflection time to process the information
- Cooler emotions can expedite agreement
Once you have all the data and everyone’s been heard, alignment means making choices. These choices come in the form of “We’re doing X (not Y or Z)”. In this context, it’s important for teammates to understand what this new alignment means for their piece. Encourage questions like, “Now that we’re aligned on X, what does that mean for A?”
If you don’t reach a consensus, don’t worry. Intelligent people will disagree. Ultimately, however, even dissenting voices must align behind the plan. Just as dissenting voices on the US Supreme Court must still abide by the majority-interpreted law, so too must each teammate align toward the agreed-upon conclusion (or find a different team).
A Worthwhile Endeavor
Alignment takes more energy than dictating orders but it keeps your team in tandem and drastically improves company culture. As the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone;
if you want to go far, go together.” Continual re-alignment may require additional investment in the short term for your company to adjust, but it enables much more long-term growth.
Alignment enables every decision to be organic and faster rather than come from a top-down mandate.
Learn more – The Power of Alignment