5 Ways to Build Team Alignment
Not a month goes by without someone asking me for suggestions to help build alignment in their company. Much depends on the specific situation, but there are some common principles worth sharing. First, remember that alignment is a means, not an end. Alignment creates coherence which in turn enables breakthrough performance. In physics, waves are coherent when they are in phase with each other. Lasers generate coherent light to create a beam that is super bright and stays tightly focused over great distances. In literature, ideas are coherent when they are logically connected to make a whole that is more than the parts. In business, a coherent team has a common purpose, is focused over time, and its members each perform their roles in harmony with each other.
What are the best ways for creating alignment? Things that break through the blockades of disrespect, myopia, cheap talk, lazy thinking, and inconsistency that prevent breakthrough performance.
1. Overcome disrespect by valuing other’s perspectives
It all starts with respect. Without it there’s no basis for trust. Most alignment efforts get gummed up right here. We are more concerned with getting what we want than understanding other’s viewpoints. When we respect others we realize we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. We understand that what is good for us may be bad for others. Respect for others gives us a desire to understand them.
2. Eliminate myopia by creating a shared understanding
We all have needs, we all have challenges, but most of us see only our own. We don’t need shared understanding, because we’ve already got the solution all figured. Instead of listening, we just talk past each other like Abbott and Costello in Who’s on First. See more clearly by asking questions that help you understand other’s perspectives. Dig into their rationale. It may help to repeat back what you hear them say to confirm you heard it correctly. The result is a broader perspective for all team members.
3. Kill cheap talk by putting the team first
Once everyone’s views are out in the open, its time to let go of your own objectives and focus on what’s best for the team. If you fixate on your ideas, you’ll destroy whatever alignment you created in the previous step. Many of us are just not big enough to make the team #1 or at least admit openly that its “my way or the highway” like Scottie Pippen did in the final 1.8 seconds of a Bulls vs. Knicks playoff game in 1994.
4. Bust through lazy thinking by finding inventive solutions
With the team first, you’re positioned to solve the challenges you face with greater clarity. Solving problems in the best ways requires that we:
- understand that our current individual solutions are not optimal,
- believe that better solutions exist,
- plow through complexity without trying to simplify things too quickly, and
- give the process time to play itself out.
One of my favorite methods for finding optimal solutions is to involve the team in an exercise called “Five Whys?” The purpose of the activity is to do a root cause analysis by asking “why?” a given problem exists, and once you have an answer to that first question, to ask another “why?” to that answer and so on. This technique will help you dig deep to find solutions that are more than just a bandaid for a more fundamental problem. As the process of developing a solution is played out transparently, people gain confidence that the best result will be achieved, even if their idea is not at the center of the solution.
5. Overcome inconsistency with persistent action
After we make a choice about how to best solve a problem, many of us subconsciously believe that the change will automatically occur. Action starts with a clear plan that connects our solution to the outcome we hope to achieve. The plan is followed by a commitment to act and a willingness to be accountable for our effort and results. Action often begins with a flurry and then quickly fades away. The key is to be persistently consistent. Just keep working at it. Don’t give up. Measure your progress. Support and encourage each other. Get back up when you fall down.
The result is coherence that will help you breakthrough almost any barrier. Give it a try. Do it for the team.