Team alignment is all about you and your team going in the same direction. People know and understand what the direction is, they are aware of the constraints and boundaries. And when the direction isn’t followed, there are questions asked.
Is there complete peace and harmony all the time? Does everybody agree on everything?
No, of course not.
But when you aim for team alignment, you tackle conflict and disagreement early, potentially make some adjustments and then move on with a clear view of the road ahead.
Why Do We Need to Focus On Team Alignment?
What I’ve noticed when teams are not aligned, is that we often see the following symptoms:
- Leadership frustration: “My team won’t do what I want.”
- Lack of Focus: “Why are you working on that thing?”
- Confusion: “Different people in your team are telling me two different stories about what’s happening!”
Many leaders assume that because they know what they want to do, everyone else does too. Often this isn’t the case.
A lack of team alignment can cause conflict within a team, as well as dissatisfaction and damaged morale.
A team that is not aligned is vulnerable to being inefficient and ineffective because without a clear direction and purpose, people can basically do whatever they want!
In most cases, I see people coming to work wanting to do a good job.
So when there is no clear direction in a team, these people simply keep working because they want to be useful. They crave job satisfaction and to make a difference. They want to go home and feel like they have contributed.
Unfortunately, this means they might just work on things they like to do, work on tasks that aren’t a priority, or they run off and do work that other people should be doing.
Without team alignment and direction, you can’t really blame them.
Root Causes of a Misaligned Team
When there is a lack of alignment within a team, I usually find that there are a few main causes. A lack of team alignment doesn’t just happen by accident:
- There is No Plan: Sometimes, leaders just haven’t taken the time to sit down and develop a clear plan or direction. In this case, it’s impossible to achieve team alignment.
- Lack of Clear Expectations and Consultation: If the plan is clear but people are still not aligned, then it is likely that you haven’t set clear expectations for what needs to be done. We can’t assume people know what we expect – we need to tell them and get them involved.
- No Consequences: When people go and do their own thing, what happens? If the answer is “nothing”, then you are working in a zero consequence environment.
Next, we’ll look at some ways that you can achieve team alignment, cut down the conflict and confusion and move forward.
How You Can Achieve Team Alignment
Having an aligned team means choosing a direction, setting clear expectations and then monitoring progress and taking corrective action to keep the team on course.
1. Choose a Direction
Choosing a direction is the critical first step to aligning your team.
If you have a company strategy, then aligning your team goals to this can be a great starting point. Consulting with your manager about their goals or ideas is also a smart way to go.
Choosing a direction might even mean just setting some priorities, from a big list of things you know need to happen.
It can also be a good idea to consult with your team about your proposed direction, rather than giving a directive immediately.
Once you’ve heard any concerns or better ideas, you can adjust your plan as needed.
The consultative approach has the added benefit of helping your team members feel involved in team decision making.
When they’ve had a chance to have their say, you’re more likely to gain commitment to the plan – especially if you’ve adapted your approach based on their feedback.
It also helps you to get any disagreements and conflict out of the way early. You discuss the way forward, resolve any conflicts, adapt your approach if needed and then get on with it.
I like to refer to this approach as Consult -> Adjust -> Commit.
2. Set Clear Expectations
Next, it’s about letting your team know the direction. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes, this doesn’t happen.
Some leaders assume they have communicated the direction well enough, or that their team members just know what to do. However, depending on your team, it can be beneficial to be quite specific about setting expectations.
For example, you might make it clear that aligning with the direction means some other work needs to stop. Or, you might have deadlines that need to be met.
One of the reasons that leaders don’t set expectations is because it can feel uncomfortable, like you’re telling people what to do. But without setting clear expectations, it’s impossible to hold anyone accountable for anything!
3. Monitor Progress and Take Corrective Action
The last step once you’ve set the direction is to monitor progress, and make corrections if you need to.
This also involves reinforcing consequences when people don’t follow the direction or do other work that doesn’t align with the way you’re headed.
Without this step, you have no idea whether people are on the same wavelength, or if they need help.
You may find that your team members need some coaching to help them stick to the right path and complete the required work.
Remember also that consequences don’t necessarily need to involve punishment. It could simply be reminding your team when they go off track, or giving constructive feedback where required.
In many cases, all that is required is for your team to realise that you are watching, and that you’re committed to sticking to the plan.
Team alignment is a great way to eliminate confusion, ensure people are working on the right things and to hold people accountable.
Is your team aligned? Or is everyone going off in different directions?
Do you do anything else to make sure your team is aligned? Leave a comment below and let us know your story.