You know when you feel personally invested in an organization and you shake your head in confusion at apparently avoidable problems?
If you are a sports fan, you’ve read about two such situations just this week.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I loved the Green Bay Packers. If you are a sports fan, you know that Aaron Rodgers, their star quarterback, is publicly unhappy with the decisions made by the organization.
Simone Biles is arguably one of the best gymnasts of all time, but decided to pull out of the Olympics to focus on her mental health. As the face of the Olympics team, she felt tremendous pressure and was carrying “the weight of the world” on her shoulders.
How could this happen? The Packers are close to winning a Super Bowl! The gymnastic gold medal was in reach! You may be wondering, as I am, how the parties involved let these situations get to this point? How was Simone’s mental health not a priority before? How did Aaron’s relationship with the organization get so fractured? Both of these situations make achievement difficult.
There are three lessons for us through the lens of creating organizational alignment and eliminating territorial thinking:
#1: Alignment is not possible without healthy individuals
We want our teams to work together across the organization. However, teams are made of individuals. When individuals are not healthy and high-functioning, our teams can’t be cohesive and high functioning. When our teams are not cohesive and high functioning, they can’t work together across the organization with other teams to align around a collective purpose or goal.
Many organizational alignment efforts fail because they are never looked at through the lens of the individual.
It’s true that “there is no i in team” but as Taylor Swift sings (yes, I’m quoting Taylor Swift), you can’t spell team without “me.”
Leaders who are serious about eliminating territorial thinking and creating alignment need to take action to Restore Individuals.
How? Only 14 percent of people are comfortable speaking with their manager about stress. Change that today. Use Simone’s example to talk openly about stress, anxiety, burnout, and mental wellness. Be authentic with your own struggles around stress, anxiety, burnout, and wellness. Leadership means caring enough to restore individuals to healthy performance.
#2: Great Talent + the Best Plan does not equal success
If you follow the Green Bay Packers, you may know that their talent has been steadily improving; their individual team units have been steadily improving – both on the field and in the front office; they have a game plan to both field the best team and to win.
But there is a big piece missing: Alignment.
Michael Jordan said that “Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” I translate that to organizational alignment. If you simply want to win a few “games,” recruit the best talent and call it a day. If you want to win championships and build a legacy, you have to do the hard work of alignment. Organizations that work across departments as one team win championships and build legacies.
Leaders who are serious about eliminating territorial thinking and creating alignment need to take action to Eliminate Gaps between these different groups and levels.
How? Gaps are created when we erect invisible barriers in our own minds. One simple starting point is to develop relationships across those barriers. Create integrated leadership groups with leaders who may not ordinarily work together to meet for lunch. Create a forum to share information or tackle a tough question and invite members of different groups. Pro-actively establish relationships across those gaps.
#3: Alignment requires a clear destination
One distinct advantage that the Packers and USA Gymnastics has is a clear destination: “win the Super Bowl” and “bring home the gold.” It provides a collective purpose with which to get healthy and work out differences.
In most organizations, the goal has not been stated so simply and clearly, which breeds confusion. The “destination” is not clear. MIT has reported that only 28% of executives and middle managers can list even three of their company’s strategic priorities.
Leaders who are serious about eliminating territorial thinking and creating alignment need to take action to Simplify the Destination so that everyone has the same collective goal.
How? One key that is often missed is to create a currently most important goal for the entire organization. Yes, one goal that is important right now. Patrick Lencioni calls this a Thematic Goal or Rallying Cry. McChesney, Coving, and Huling call it a Wildly Most Important Goal. More than a list of strategic priorities or initiatives, this one goal galvanizes everyone and gives them a reason to work together across gaps.
Nothing of lasting significance gets done without organizational alignment. What action could you take towards unleashing the power of alignment in your organization?