Is there always a loser in the alignment process?
Podtext on the topic of the alignment process with Lindsay Uittenbogaard, Founder and Director of Mirror Mirror Alignment and Mike Rozinsky #conflicthugger, Founder and Principal of RZNSKY LLC, Ombuds at University of Kansas (USA) and Brandeis University (USA), and Confidential Coach and Dialogue Facilitator at Bravely.
LINDSAY: I’m going to come straight out here with a ‘no’ response to that question. Based on our work with teams, the alignment process can go in several directions. What we mean by alignment is cognitive and behavioural coherence between people. In other words, more shared meaning, or a better shared reality that leads to effective action. The alignment process can be
- about having one or more people become more informed, leading them to a new understanding between them
- about innovation, where two perspectives that are both true merge into a better combined approach / solution, or
- re-prioritization, where one or more people re-orientate towards the team goal first, as opposed to putting a personal goal first, for example.
None of these directions necessarily have to incur a loss per se, or one that is visible to others. It depends on how people frame up the alignment process in their mind and how they react to it. Certainly if people interpret the process as a win / lose situation, they could feel like they could lose out. This perception might well stand in the way of the alignment process.
MIKE: I appreciate you going straight to it Lindsay. In considering those three bullets, I see creating alignment as also creating a sense of loss when considering Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler’s five stages of grief and James Prochaska and Carlo Clemente’s transtheoretical model of change . Here’s what’s on my mind.
- What was the prior understanding in relation to the new understanding among those involved? What was the experience around being informed and informing?
- What were the perspectives prior to agreeing to merge? What would those involved say about the experience of merging of perspectives?
- When reprioritising and reorienting, how do those involved relate or orient to the team and individual goals as well as the experience?
In thinking about grief and change, it would not surprise me to hear about experiences that relate to denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as well as pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
These experiences might be brief and at times longer, so picking up on the “visible to others” descriptor offered it says to me sometimes the alignment experience is not necessarily visible. I agree with that. Our behaviours in the alignment process might then at times be unconscious, so the opportunity becomes to create some focus, explore, and acknowledge the experience, whether unconscious, subconscious, or lived. This might involve self-work or dialogue in turn to give space for the group to align to move forward.
LINDSAY: I just learned a fair bit reading your response above, and am now trying to assimilate it into the mental model I have about how alignment works – kind of an alignment process in itself!:) What comes back for me is that if people believe they are losing something in the alignment process then the experience can feel like loss. This is an unnecessary expectation because by nature, you gain something when you become better aligned because you have re-positioned your understanding to better fit a goal you share with others. And if alignment had not been possible, there would be conflict, not alignment (see the definitions of alignment and misalignment set out here).
There is an exception of course, which is when alignment doesn’t necessarily mean agreement. In other words, people agree on a course of action but don’t agree on the why’s or the wherefore’s. In this case, the extent to which any sense of loss was perceived would depend on how far the shared goals came before one’s personal goals (and ego).
In summary, there doesn’t HAVE to be a loser in the alignment process if both parties are looking to prioritize ways that advance their shared goals, and are happy to discard any notions that don’t fit in with that. The alignment process is therefore not the same as the grieving process or the change process – although reflecting on your response above, I see how it could easily feel like that. Does this point to a need for alignment learning then?
MIKE: I am ever so curious about what you learned. Do tell if you’re game. I know I have been learning from you, both about you and your work, as well as learning some things about me.
This has me wondering what the mental model of alignment looks like…
I think there is power in reflecting on the alignment process: seeing one’s idea or words being carried forward in the forward-moving alignment. And there is also power in accepting another’s ideas or words and aligning to them in moving forward. For me, reflecting on how we feel about both and how the others we are engaging with might feel has its own space in the process?
So it is not necessarily a literal loss of something, rather spiritual in a way…a letting go (even a celebration of contribution)…It is that moment, or series of moments when we shift to something new that is emerging.
Shifting briefly back to agreements…what sprang to mind about agreements since I agree (ha!) with your notion that “alignment doesn’t necessarily mean agreement” is this recent Adam Grant share … “You don’t have to agree to disagree. You just have to agree on why you disagree.”
LINDSAY: Ooh this is getting quite rich – there are a few points I’d like to respond to.
Firstly, I see that to a certain extent, misalignment is inevitable because people interpret the world differently. They hold different mental models, based on their own experiences, personalities, biases, motivations etc. In this sense, people will have different mental models about ‘alignment’ itself, both as a state and a process. Education influences and shapes how people see things, and it is becoming clearer to me that learning is needed to bring people closer together on the meaning, methods and uses of alignment.
Certainly one of the ways that the process of alignment accelerates effectiveness, assuming the alignment gaps have been identified, is that it gives people a common language to use when articulating their views and learning from each other. Alignment after all, is about how people do that – how they discover and take on the perspectives of others. And yes, powerful is a fitting word to use there.
When it comes to alignment and agreement, the process of alignment at work is about getting to a shared reality so people can deliver better together. I’m not sure in this sense if people need to agree on why they disagree (although that would be helpful); but they do need to agree on the course of action going forwards.
However, to the title of this piece – yes – for all of the reasons outlined in how people can experience alignment differently, loss could well be included in this process.
MIKE: Alignment “as a state and a process” – thanks for that Lindsay. At its essence, that collection of words speak to different perspectives. The common understanding, language, and acknowledgement lends itself to being in a state or a moment of alignment to then being in the process of alignment. I do wonder if an alternative to a “shared reality”, we could be in a shared time and space “delivering together.” Kind of like us right now…
Something called us to engage, we met, we had a moment of alignment, and we have stayed aligned. When we get to our next moment of alignment, what will we individually and collectively let go of (in effect “lose”) as we consider and deliver on ideas and possibilities in our process of alignment?
LINDSAY: Yes, and the difference between ‘let go of’ and ‘lose’ is possibly the central point here. Whichever is perceived to be the case at each point of alignment would come down to those involved and the context they are in. Carol Dweck’s definition of the Growth Mindset would interpret such a transition as a development. And Amy Edmondson’s work on The Fearless Organization advocates trust and safety as essential prerequisites to a growth mindset.
If all things were equal, I wonder how many people would naturally default to the growth mindset in an alignment process, being happy to let go of old constructs; and how many would be more inclined to default to feeling loss or worse, hold on to old constructs? Hmmm. That’s an interesting question that relates back to the title question of this podtext:: Is there always a loser in the alignment process? As usual, I guess the answer is, “It depends” 🙂
MIKE: Agreed and aligned 😉
I’m reminded of an incident in the training some years ago; having been asked to present one of the change models the response from a large part of the team was something on the lines of “oh, is change coming?”: it turned out that half of them were about to be made redundant and this was the team leaders way of introducing the subject.
A complete lack of alignment between myself and the client, I’d had no idea. Needless to say I felt a right loser that day, and I wasnt alone… we learn from our disasters though, the client isn’t always right, a little curiosity – or even a great piece of research based analysis – would have helped.
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