The other day, I was on a coffee date with a friend – or more specifically, a former ‘intervision’ partner of mine. As usual, we were discussing how complex modern workplaces are.
We started talking about a certain phenomenon that most of you have likely noticed – how bombarded we seem to be by opinions. Switch on the TV, and quite likely you’ll see the news. If it’s not the news, it’s probably a talk show or even a sports match with commentary. All opinions, often with very little direction or purpose, and often focused on negative things.
Parallels with Today’s Organizations
Walk into any busy workplace and observe. In today’s business environments, things can get hectic and you’ll also notice opinions flying around everywhere. Most frequently, they are not very positive.
“That’s not going to work”;
“I wouldn’t have done it the way they did”; or
In a time where the pace of work is faster than ever, opinions are not going to save the day. Like a bucket full of frogs, they simply lead us in countless different directions if we don’t put a lid on it.
So what is going to save the day, then?
My friend and I were in 100% agreement – the answer is continuous alignment.
The Key is Continuous Alignment
To achieve shared goals, we need to be on the same page, not jumping around like frogs. And we can keep some basic questions in the back of our minds to create that focus: “Are we on the same track?” and “What is important in this situation?”
Continual alignment – and not just aligning at the start of a project – helps us stay in similar mindsets and move forward together.
A Model of Continuous Alignment
There are 4 things to remember when you’re trying to maintain alignment throughout a process or project.
1. Alignment on Context
Your business and your projects don’t operate in a vacuum. As the globe in the model shows, it’s important to be aware of how different things in the world influence our goals and actions. Have your clients interests changed? Are resources that you were counting on, no longer available?
Continuously aligning is about ensuring that everyone is up to date and clear on how your environment is impacting your desired output and way of working – in other words, it’s about establishing your current context. It helps people stay in sync and collaborate better, avoiding duplication of effort and bottlenecks. And last but not least, It ensures that you deliver products and services that agree with clients needs and expectations.
Consider the fictional JulKandy, a company that manufactures Christmas chocolates. Every year they make sure that around Christmas, lots of households eat chocolates shaped like everyone’s favorite reindeer Rudolf. If a well-known animation film maker just launched a blockbuster movie about Rudolf’s blue-nosed cousin Bobby, for example, it might be time to order a little extra blue frosting.
So the key question here is: What do we know about our context? How does it impact the products and services we deliver?
How To Align on Context
It helps to take a step back one’s in a while and share your thoughts when you see any shifts in context. Has anything changed that could affect your progress or output? Have you overlooked anything, any ‘blind spots’ that might trip you up later on? In addition, it helps to adopt a Clarify style to check if you are aligned on the new context. Try asking questions to zoom in on important contextual elements to avoid getting pulled in different directions. Are you all clear on the critical factors that could impact your work?
2. Alignment on Goals
This one’s about goals. And it’s continuous because sometimes, your direction changes – for instance, when our context changes (as we’ve seen). Ensuring continuous alignment regarding your desired outcome often means adopting a Direct style of communication.
For instance, it usually entails Directing others and taking a clear stance about your shared intentions. What exactly do you hope to accomplish, and how?
At JulKandy, the head supervisor might bring all three teams together and outline their Christmas goals – how many boxes of chocolates, and by when.
The most crucial thing about aligning on goals is that you clearly define your playing field. What are your boundaries – your dont’s – and what space – your do’s – are you leaving for creativity?
3. Aligning on Content
Continuously aligning on content involves making sure that teammates and co-workers are up-to-date on the latest details of your project or task. Once you’ve aligned your goals according to your context, this part’s about digging into the details that everyone needs to have.
Here, a Clarify style can come in handy once more. Do the sprinkles team understand that the candy coating team will be sending their chocolates over while they’re still super, super hot? Do the wrapping team know that they need to wait till the sprinkles are set before putting on the tinfoil?
Again, it helps to ask questions, summarize, and rephrase if necessary. For example: “If I understand you correctly…”
4. Personal Alignment
Finally – and perhaps most importantly, people need to align as people. Personal alignment is what I like to think of as a meta-process, it means checking in consistently to be sure that everyone’s on board.
The fundamental, most important question here is: Are you fine with that?
It means ensuring that everyone’s committed, engaged, and most importantly – on board with why it all matters. That means listening actively to what others as humans: attending to what they’re saying, empathizing with their concerns, and taking the time to offer any support they may need.
Personal alignment should also involve the less outspoken members of your group so that everyone feels some ownership. Say the wrapping team tends to be a quiet bunch who don’t voice their opinions much, for example. In this case, the JulKandy supervisor might benefit from using a Connect style of communicating, too. She could encourage everyone to participate in the discussion by asking questions, inviting opinions, and create some space for them to pitch in. How do you feel about that? Have you got everything you need? What do you think?
It’s critical that this alignment is ongoing – or at least carried out regularly. Because at the end of the day, organizations are human systems – with a little time and effort at the right moments, things are much less likely to break down into a whirlwind of opinions!
Being able to switch between communication styles is a useful way to help people feel informed, valued, and responsible for the team’s outcomes. Do you have any tips about how you get – and keep – your team on the same page?