Top managers often rely on mass communication channels to persuade the rank and file to embrace whatever has been concocted in the boardroom. The underlying assumption being that ‘smart communication’ will create the necessary awareness, understanding and enthusiasm for the new direction. “Creatively communicate the strategy!” is how the mantra goes and that is where things can quickly go awry.
There are many reasons why ‘communicating’ desired change doesn’t necessarily lead to concerted action. I’m talking about the polished CEO message. The enthusiastically written newsletter, destined to remain buried in the inbox of death. The well-intended line manager cascade process that inevitably succumbs to ‘chinese-whisper’ syndrome.
While ‘corporate messaging’ does have its place as a means of keeping people informed, it also has an important shortcoming: it is one-directional and top-down. In other words, unless the loop is closed, it is taken for granted that throughout the organisation, in all functions, areas and levels, everyone will somehow miraculously understand the message from above in the same way and attach identical meaning to it. That sounds silly and it is.
It starts with misalignment
It is commonplace for people to be working alongside each other while living in different realities. Different interpretations of what needs to be done and how, unconscious biases, hidden assumptions, information gaps – all these contribute to misalignment. Misalignment is like a fog and it can add up to be hugely detrimental to engagement, collaboration, and performance. The more complex the working environment, the foggier it gets.
Team members face the challenge of bridging this natural state of misalignment and develop a shared understanding of the problem at hand. Being aligned doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to think the same thing, or even agree with each other on everything. In scientific research, alignment is mostly defined as a state in which people with shared goals genuinely agree on taking a specific course of action. This article in the EACD’s Communications Director explains more about today’s definition of alignment.
“In the culture of do and tell, the biggest problem is that we cannot really know how valid or appropriate what we tell or are told is to the situation, unless we ask.”
EDGAR H. SCHEIN
Uncovering hidden alignment gaps
Misalignment often remains hidden under the surface – people are not aware of what is holding them back – which is exactly what The Team Reflector method is designed to help with. By asking people how they perceive their team reality and then comparing their responses, The Team Reflector discovers where the common ground and differences are. This surfaces the real communication needs so they can be addressed. The Team Reflector method is based on relevant and validated scientific research and has built a strong track record since it was first introduced in 2016.
The role of well-designed conversations
Bridging alignment gaps between team members requires one, or more likely, several well-designed, constructive conversations. The more people feel safe to express themselves, the more likely they are to open up and learn from each other. This is what reverse communication is about: the very opposite of sending out one-size-fits-all messages to everyone. Reverse communication is about delivering to an evidenced need for communications on how to move forward as a team, enabling concerted action while at the same time strengthening engagement and well-being.
Taking a step back, verifying to what extent team members are on the same page, and addressing relevant alignment gaps are crucial steps for closing the loop, empowering those who are expected to work together to bring desired change to life.
Article in short
- People interpret their experienced reality in their own unique way.
- Objectives, strategies, principles and even calls for action thus mean different things to different people.
- People are often unaware of their different interpretations of what needs to be done, why and how
- These mostly hidden alignment gaps undermine the effectiveness of teams and organisations.
- An inclusive, two-way symmetrical approach to internal communication is needed to surface hidden alignment gaps and resolve them.
- Once team members become aware of alignment gaps they can decide collectively whether or not and how to resolve them.
- Being aligned enables people to interact effectively, even without necessarily agreeing on everything.
If you would like to know more about the rigorous scientific research behind our approach to team alignment, you can download our literature review here.