If you’ve seen a top-notch rowing team compete you’ve witnessed true alignment. The boat achieves amazing speeds and seems to effortlessly glide perfectly straight across the top of the water. It’s a wonder to behold.
But imagine the same boat except the oars are all different lengths and the rowers are all listening to different leaders. Going straight or fast would be completely out of reach. And that is pretty much what so many of us experience in the organizations we run.
The organizational cost of be “unaligned” is staggering on several levels. On the Surface there is the fact that often different departments have conflicting goals, use different systems and communicate completely differently making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to really help each other succeed. It is very frustrating for people that have to work across departments and clients who just want a great end result. Imagine a boat with 8 rowers who all have different size oars competing against another boat with 5 rowers with identical oars. The 5 person boat will easily win the race.
But that is the least of the problems. The big cost comes in the Emotional price of being “unaligned”. You see, when everyone is not sure who is “onboard” with the current plan and who isn’t, or worse yet, what the current plan even is, people spend immeasurable amounts of time and energy wondering who they can count on and what actions will actually get finished. And these mental gymnastics are replayed with every step and every action. This is so costly because time and energy are things we can’t just buy. We are all bound by our limitations so every ounce of time or energy wasted on navigating this emotional maize of decisions simply leaves things delayed or undone. Frustration and exhaustion surge and employee engagement tumbles (can you say “burnout”?).
I don’t really think we can imagine the Surface and Emotional cost of being “unaligned” has on the Bottom Line. My experience has been somewhere between 100% and 400% but I’ll admit that is anecdotal. I know it is huge.
So let’s get about the work of getting aligned and let’s start with defining “alignment”.
At Arena Success Group we believe there are three levels of alignment.
- Exterior Alignment – This is looking like you have it together on the outside, but it’s just a facade. At this level different people within the organization know what to say, but they really don’t know what the purpose and plan is for the organization. They come, do their job, and leave. One group or department struggles to work with another group because everything is so unclear and systems are either non-existent or not used in a similar fashion by everyone.
- Systematic Alignment – Achieving this is a big step forward and it is what most people think “alignment” means. At this point the organization has clarified what they do, how they do it, and why. They’ve come up with measurements of success that people can understand, relate to, and influence. They have systems and processes that support these clarifications and measurements and for the most part people use them in similar fashions achieving good results.
- Team Alignment – This is the Holy Grail. When this is achieved people, productivity and profits all surge. Everything becomes easier. More is achieved by fewer people with less energy and in less time. It is so amazing that most people who have never experienced it don’t really think it exist…but it does. To understand it, more less achieve it, you need to understand The Concept Of The Decision Line.
The Concept Of The Decision Line
Think of a decision as a line on the floor in the middle of a room. Prior to making a decision, everyone is on one side of the line. On that side of the line great teams passionately argue about different plans and ideas. This is done with respect, but it can get heated. Good leaders “mine for conflict” on this side of the decision line. They want everyone to get everything “out on the table”. If you can’t do this people will feel left out and unimportant. This ability to have passionate team conflict prior to a decision is critical.
Now a decision is made by the team captain, and everyone on the team crosses The Decision Line.
After the decision is made every teammate now passionately supports the decision and does everything in their power to make the decision a success, even if they themselves disagreed with the decision! This is what separates the pros from the armatures, the winners from the loser. If you can’t do this, you should get off the team or the team should kick you off. Great companies have a culture that expects this, is clear that this is the expectation, and passionately enforces it. When everyone knows the decision will be passionately supported, the “game” completely changes.
Remember the Emotional price is being unaligned? The time and energy sucked out of us day after day by constantly rethinking and renegotiating our decisions? That is suddenly gone. Everything begins to happen “at the speed of trust” and with drastically less effort. Tasks that once were so burdensome and time consuming because little more than a slight curve on the road to success. Till you experience it, you scarcely can comprehend it.
It also makes for MUCH better decisions. You see, generally a poor plan that is broadly supported will outperform a excellent plan that is poorly supported. Knowing this, leaders in organizations that do NOT have Team Alignment, as we’ve described it here, must make choices largely based on popularity instead of what is best. I know, I’ve been there. This is so common it is taken for granted and often mistaken for the best way to decide things. But if you are the leader of a team that will passionately support the final decision, you are free to make the best decision instead of the popular decision.
In summary: Team Alignment = Better Decisions – Better Execution – Better Teammates – Better Lives…oh yeah, and Better Profits too.
PS – To do this, the team has to have a strong sense of “Captaincy”, but I’ll leave that for another article.