Alignment is a broad term used to describe a range of how different things match up. From how organization and individual goals can connect; to how purpose, strategy and values can inter-relate; and even to how the wheels on a car can line up. We need to get more specific and more precise here, because in the last few years, integrated research has given rise to a distinct and under-recognized area we are terming here for the sake of clarity, as ‘interactive alignment’. It’s about shared meaning between people as an enabler of effective action and it’s powerful stuff.
We took some time to map the definition of interactive alignment, to unpack what it includes and how it works best. In summary, it is:
- A state of shared understanding between people about their challenges (cognitive alignment) and how they collaborate to deliver (behavioural alignment). This state is constantly moving because contexts change and the people see things evolve over time.
- A process that depends on reciprocity: openness, respect, participation, and inclusivity. There is no such thing as full alignment because of the hundreds of micro alignment gaps that are undetectable and / or pointless to resolve. And it doesn’t happen by itself. Especially in complex and dynamic environments, misalignment is inevitable, simply because there is a lot going on, people see and do things differently, and a clear and relevant explanation or roadmap for each person is not available. The process of alignment needs structure, objectivity, psychological safety, willingness and dedication.
- A means of engaging, empowering and uniting people to take effective action.
- A competence to engage in constructive challenge, objectively and intentionally.
Interactive alignment as a state
Interactive alignment is not about aligning the structures of the organization (the strategy, purpose, and systems) it is between people in the understanding they share about ‘what, how and why’:
- What their shared challenges are in the context of the strategy and wider context (cognitive alignment)
- How they collaborate to deliver together (behavioural alignment).
- How they are supported to align and deliver by the wider organization
Alignment in all three of these areas can be present as information gaps, perspective gaps, and structural gaps, as well as anti-team gaps – those purposefully created and often hidden, to support a personal agenda. As contexts are constantly evolving, so the way people interpret and react in changing situations also evolves, inevitably creating more gaps.
Interactive alignment as a process
- It starts with discovery – how do you know where you’re aligned and misaligned? (Mirror Mirror)
- It prioritises what needs attention in terms of ‘what is’ and ‘what is needed next’, so people can focus on moving from the current reality to a desired shared reality.
- It is ongoing – contexts change, people’s perceptions change and differ, so misalignment is inevitable and increasing if nothing is done to address it.
- It is participative and trust-oriented – alignment depends on open and respectful reciprocation between people – they don’t need to think the same thing or agree, they just need to emerge from the alignment process with a shared course of action. In fact, it’s better when people bring diverse perspectives and contrary views.
- It uses a dialogue structure to keep focus.
Interactive alignment as a means
- Of uniting people to a shared course of action. It brings relevance to the strategic frame, clarifies roles and goals, expectations and ground rules of collaboration.
- Of empowering, sharing ownership, leading to engagement
- To effectiveness, innovation and performance
- Of mitigating against the risk of problems caused by escalating misalignment – where alignment gaps widen and worsen over time as things change.
Interactive alignment as a competence
Competence in alignment is about:
- Accommodating differences of others to encourage constructive challenge and radical candour. It works best when people authentically include themselves.
- Relinquishing control to the group – to allow people to make sense of things on their own terms and take ownership for reaching their own views about ‘what is and what next’. Alignment isn’t achieved by telling, or bringing people to a foregone conclusion, it is putting pieces from all parties together.
- Learning from each other – people learn from each other when they use learning behaviours. For example, if people are trusted and heard, if they are curious and patient, they are more likely to open up to each other’s perspectives, build new meaning together, and become better aligned.
About Mirror Mirror
Mirror Mirror is a diagnostic tool that measures cognitive and behavioural alignment gaps between people in teams. It surfaces unhelpful assumptions and conflicting interpretations that undermine progress. This data informs dialog sessions to close the gaps, engaging those involved in the process.