A couple of summers ago, my wife and I went kayaking on the Harpeth River, a little river here in middle Tennessee. Shortly after casting off, we approached a small set of rapids. Since the water level was low, we risked scraping the bottom of the kayak on the rocks under the rushing water. As we got closer, I suggested that we aim for the rapids on the left, while my wife thought I said to aim for the rapids on the right. The result? We ended up sideways and were stuck on rocks in the middle of the river. We had a great laugh while demonstrating the importance of alignment.
Based on my podcast interview with Michele Herlein, as well as my experience working with various clients, I jotted down five simple keys to creating alignment for your team or organization.
1. Align around Purpose, Vison, and Values first
This is the basis of alignment, before we even get to aligning around a strategy or tactics. First, we need to have agreement upon why we exist, where we are going, and how we will behave. If we don’t have agreement on those foundations, alignment is not possible because we have not even agreed upon the same destination.
2. It is the leadership team’s responsibility to create alignment.
If the leadership team is not aligned, the organization will not be aligned. There cannot be any daylight between any two members of the leadership team. Everyone must have the same answers to the same foundational questions. In my work, I often leverage Patrick Lencioni’s six questions for organizational clarity and alignment:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do? (what business are we in?)
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important right now?
- Who will do what?
3. The leadership team cannot align unless it is healthy.
In order for this type of alignment to occur, the leadership team must be working to become cohesive. A lack of trust, fear of conflict, and other dysfunctional behaviors will prevent alignment from occurring. As a result, for some teams, the starting point is becoming a functional, effective team first.
4. The leader(s) must constantly communicate.
You never stop communicating purpose, vision, values. You never stop communicating what is important. That is your very job as a leader. Michele shared how her company starts off meetings with reviewing their purpose, vision, and values, and sharing examples of how those have been lived out recently.
5. Focus on two to five big priorities for strategic alignment.
Too many organizations get whiplash because they have too many priorities. Everything becomes important. Healthy, focused organizations are the ones that pick the few priorities which are most going to move the needle. What are the two to five priorities that we need to accomplish in the next three years that will help us accomplish our purpose, vision, and values? Keep it clear and simple – resist the urge to make it fuzzy and complicated.
These keys are true whether you are leading an entire organization, a department, or even a team. It’s the job of the leader to create alignment. With it, you are able to move faster, handle disruption better, resist distractions, and increase joy. Without alignment, you just get stuck sideways in the river.