It’s late and you’re still at your desk, with a stone in your stomach. Sitting back, you’re painfully aware that it’s not just you – everyone is overworked, and it’s clear that quality is dropping because people caught up, just trying to keep their heads above water. These days it’s more about how it looks than how it is. Getting back on track seems impossible. Is it?
Underneath many observable problems like these, misalignment is the root cause. People have taken conflicting decisions and actions based on different interpretations of the strategy and how it needs to be implemented: they are simply not on the same page. Misalignment is a natural consequence of being human, as people make sense of things based on their unique biases and preferences. They make assumptions to connect the dots about what’s going on, consciously or unconsciously. And when the workplace is complex, when there is a lot of change, and when people are working remotely, there is more to align on.
Each person’s understanding of the “current reality” might well make sense to them, but it doesn’t mean everyone’s version automatically fits together. In fact, going unchecked, it usually doesn’t. What’s needed is something systematic, that identifies the gaps so they can be addressed. Alignment gaps can be information gaps, structural gaps, perception gaps, and anti-team gaps. Getting clear on what needs attention gets you half way there.
Social Constructionism theory tells us that people form shared meaning together, through language. Alignment is a process that can only take place in dialogue between people. But it doesn’t have to be an endless, confusing discussion. With sophisticated diagnostics and dialogue frameworks, the alignment process can be efficiently managed. From experience of all the teams we’ve worked with on alignment, increased alignment is of significant value. The thing about misalignment is not to understand it as a malfunction or as a problem, but rather as an insight and an opportunity.
Once you can see it, you can address it
Instead of making alignment something that runs alongside a business topic, make it the main focus. Get the gaps identified and measured upfront. There are different kinds of alignment gaps so it’s useful to break these down. Mirror Mirror is the best team alignment diagnostic on the market with a range of options for teams at different levels. Using anonymous surveys to gather and compare participant perceptions, it reveals the gaps clearly and constructively. Without this, it’s difficult to manage the conversation. Next comes the dialogue. Questions that facilitators can use at this point are:
• Is there anything that surprises you in the alignment report?
• Which 4 – 5 insights would be best to work on together?
• Where do you see these playing out in your work?
• What would you like those results to look like?
• What would need to happen differently to bring about that change?
And then, with that priority list, there are only four ways to close the gaps:
1. Is it an information gap? OK – find the missing information or find out when that information might be available.
2. Is it something about the structure within the organization that is blocking the effectiveness of this team? What needs to be fixed – do we have any ideas? What action do we need to take there, who do we need to engage, or what questions need to be answered first?
3. Is it a perception gap? So, what are we trying to achieve and what perspectives around that lead to options for how we should move forward? What are the pros and cons of those options? Can any be merged to find a new, better option? Do we need to break the challenge down into steps and figure out how to test these steps? Alignment doesn’t necessarily mean agreement. Closure here is collectively choosing an option and genuinely committing to support that decision, even if it means having to break it down into investigating the first part of an option.
4. And finally, the remaining gaps – do they all need to be closed here and now? Which could be taken offline with a smaller subset of people? Which might best be discussed later? Agreement to defer or take it offline is also a form of alignment.
The key here is to work with our four principles:
• Gaps in understanding between people are inevitable and often invisible
• Alignment gaps undermine effective work and alignment is a key driver of performance.
• Alignment does not need to mean agreement, just agreement on the course of action
• No team can be fully aligned – it’s just important to close the significant gaps as a priority.
Mirror Mirror Team Alignment Diagnostics identify and measure cognitive and behavioural alignment gaps between people in teams. Our reports surface the opportunities for improved engagement, effectiveness, and performance