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Typically, when people think about how they can #makemeetingswork, they focus on the outcomes they want to see, in terms of:

● What I want to have happen in the meeting
● What I want people to think / feel / do
● How I can make this meeting work.

But when you start by thinking in terms of alignment, the game changes:

● How can we interact to build a better shared understanding?
● What questions could I ask to find out more about how others see things?
● Let’s start by recognising ‘what is’ and defining ‘what next.

You can set a broad or specific frame for an alignment conversation, depending on the need. For example, the leader of a finance team might want tighter reporting to support better decision making. Without prescribing a way forward, he / she could ask:

• How do you see the reporting work that we do right now? (Encourage input from all and ask ‘why’ so that people can explain the rationale behind their perspectives)
• What kind of reporting would we like to deliver to the business? (As above)
• What do we need to do to make that happen? (Ask follow-up questions to create clear and actionable next steps and encourage dialogue).

If a meeting is focused on a single challenge like this, the quality of the meeting and the output will be much sharper.

Typically, the word ‘alignment’ in organizations previously referred to goal setting hat linked from the individuals to the team and organization level. But there’s a lot in the social sciences literature that points to a more comprehensive, specific, and valuable definition. Here is a summary…

Updating the definition of alignment

Alignment is a:

1. 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.
2. 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.
3. means of engaging, empowering and uniting people to take effective action.

Quite simply, when people are in a face-to-face or a virtual meeting and they learn about the views and assumptions of others, they build more empathy and understanding. When they share knowledge and thinking about their challenges in an open and respectful environment, they reach a better and more actionable shared current reality.

To go deeper into alignment, tools like Mirror Mirror offer ways to identify alignment gaps between people, for the purposes of transformation, team formation, engagement, and performance improvement.

Meantime, start your meetings thinking ‘we not me’, and encourage curiosity and sharing of perspectives. The rest will follow.