How many times have you heard the word ‘alignment’ at work? We need to get aligned. I thought we were aligned. The team is not aligned. We often banter around the concept, and I think it’s largely misunderstood.
Alignment is the position a person takes in relation to a decision or direction of another person or a group. It is a declaration followed by a promise. I declare that I am committed to the decision/direction, and then I promise my ongoing support for that decision. By doing so, I commit to representing the decision/direction as my own. This means if or when I see that I’m gradually or suddenly falling out of alignment with the decision, I will be proactive in doing whatever is necessary to bring myself back into alignment.
To achieve alignment, you first have to be clear about your common goals. Those involved need to have the opportunity to express their opinions and to fully listen to the opinions of others. The intention of alignment is to produce unity, particularly in action. Alignment is not agreement. I can be aligned with a decision even though I may have an assessment that a different direction/decision would have been better.
In a recent “go, no-go” meeting of business development staff, a senior manager, found himself disagreeing with the others involved as to whether or not to pursue a potential project. His opinion was that we should not pursue it, but others had compelling reasons to try to win the business. Ultimately, he decided to align with the decision to move forward. There were certain conditions attached to his alignment that made it possible. Part of that agreement is that he will not undermine the decision in conversations with others. For example, he should not say he is aligned and then go out for drinks and “bad mouth” the decision.
What can you do if you are committed against a decision or direction? It is important that your relationship with those you are aligned against strengthen over time. A series of non-aligned positions will erode the relationships and affect how successful you are in accomplishing your common goals. When you are out of alignment, you must take responsibility to say so. One action you can take is to ask the other person to hear you out. Talk through the elements of the situation where you are not aligned. There is likely some new alignment you can make.
Noticing whether you are aligned, or not, may offer insight when slowness to action and lack of harmony seem to be an ongoing issue. Alignment is a central aspect of strengthening relationships and coordinating action.