We all want our team to be aligned – but what does it really look like? Teams often believe they are aligned, but when asked to prioritize projects and initiatives, there frequently is great variance in perceived top priorities.
Alignment means all team members moving in the same direction with the same targets in mind. Like rowers in a boat, each one knows their contribution to moving the boat in the right direction. When even just one or two rowers start to row slower or in the other direction, it creates misalignment.
Being aligned does not mean that everyone is working in the exact same way or that every day, each business priority gets equal attention from all team members. Alignment is achieved, however, by having barriers out on the table, a clear direction, and a plan to move forward towards that direction.
Barriers, things that get in the way of team members doing their best work, often exist quietly under the surface. Barriers can be both internal to organizations (how work is getting done) or external (a pandemic). Barriers can be quite personal, in that they are anything (truly, anything) that makes getting work done not as efficient or effective as possible.
Without the space and opportunity to voice their barriers, employees will often leave barriers unaddressed for months, if not years. Big (“I don’t have the right team on this project”) or small (“My chair is uncomfortable”), removing barriers is a powerful path to better performance. As a bonus, all team members and leaders get a pulse for what’s really happening on the team by hearing what is getting in the way.
Having a clear direction and path forward is nonnegotiable for high performance. Teams so often have one or the other (a grand vision without a road map, or execution plans without ties to a greater goal) and the key is having and consistently talking about both. Direction is everyone knowingly pointing towards the same outcome. The path forward is each individual knowing what they must do to contribute to the outcome.
Ask yourself and your team, “What are our top three priorities for the next six months?” Write this down. The answers quickly give you a sense of whether the direction is clear, and if not, opens the conversation for clarification.
After direction has been communicated and heard by all, ask the team, “How can I/the team help you better understand what you need to do to achieve our goal?” Again, this sets the stage for an honest conversation where at the end, each team members knows their specific role to play in achieving great outcomes.
These three components, uncovering barriers, clear direction, and path forward, can be powerful in unleashing better performance. We are given freedom to perform better when burdens and barriers can be voiced, we know what we’re aiming for, and have the tools to contribute to the outcome. Give your rowers the space to voice barriers, a clear direction to row in, and the tools and guidance to successfully row.
Uncovering Barriers x Clear Direction x Plan Forward = Team Alignment and Better Performance