Alignment is one of those elusive and appealing states for business people. It sounds great; “If we were aligned, things would go much smoother.” “We used to be aligned, now it just seems impossible to get anything done.” Most of the people I work with, when asked exactly what they mean by alignment, give an answer that is some version of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment when writing the ruling on pornography “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.” What is this elusive state that we all want? Let’s start with what it is not:
Myth #1: We are aligned when we all agree. Will there ever be a time when we all agree about everything? Do we even want to? Too often teams will work long and hard to generate agreement about everything material that they are dealing with. Even if there is a moment in time when agreement gets reached, a week later, POOF! It’s gone.
Alignment does not depend upon agreeing on things.
Myth #2: We don’t have time to get aligned – it’s really time-consuming. Really, we do not have time to be not aligned. The amount of wasted effort and re-work in most organizations results from people working at cross-purposes, misunderstandings what others require, and having a completely different view of the goals, is tolerable for most workers and managers because it is familiar.
Alignment is affordable – lack of alignment is not.
Myth #3: We could never get to the bottom of everything and sort all of this out. It would be too time-consuming, and it would dredge up all of those old arguments and debates. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. All of the unresolved disputes, disagreements and disappointments from the past create a constant invisible drag on productivity.
Getting the past complete in service of alignment does not require reliving every issue.
So, what is alignment? Consider that it is a state of being poised and committed to acting together and in concert. It does not require agreeing on anything other than being aligned. A team of people can create being aligned by declaration. That might sound like: “We each declare that we will act together to advance our business. Our practice is to end every weekly meeting with promises to take specific actions, and we will begin every weekly meeting by completing promises from past meetings to everyone’s satisfaction. Within that declaration and promise, teams can complete the past (dealing with what is left to impact the future, not everything that happened) and design and execute actions and always maintain alignment. It is possible to surface differences and commit to a path forward without resolving those differences. For the members of an aligned team, the performance of the team is more important to them than being right or winning debates.
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