Tim just had his SUV realigned. In upstate New York where he lives, it’s required maintenance. Between the changing weather, which can range up to 100 degrees from summer to winter, and the potholes and rough spots on many of the roads, annual alignment is a must. If it isn’t done, there can be negative effects — like poor gas mileage, prematurely worn tires and unwanted stress on the wheel bearings. Regular alignment helps the car move straight and smooth and avoid future problems.
Just like those potholes and rough spots, most teams in an organization also face unexpected difficulties. We’ve all had them — a new challenging project, a change in team membership, a heated disagreement in a meeting, conflicting personalities, adjusting to new leaders and so on.
Regular team realignment can help. When was the last time your team engaged in intentional realignment? If you haven’t, those potholes and rough spots can cause bigger problems down the road.
Our definition of team alignment is when a manager and all team members have high levels of cohesion, connection, coordination and collaboration. They have a common purpose and agree on priorities, use of resources, values, methods and key practices. They’re in agreement about what, why, when, who and how.
To strengthen alignment, teams must continuously enhance their levels of empathy, respect and trust. Strong empathy leads to improved mutual respect, which leads to mutual trust. These three interpersonal factors make team alignment more likely. As Stephen Covey once said, “You can’t continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively improve interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”
Once aligned, a team can move more efficiently and effectively together (like those SUV wheels after an alignment). Team members will readily support each another and help each other succeed, improving overall organizational performance.
Alignment also has a preventative quality: When a team is aligned, certain types of problems are less likely to occur. For example, we once worked with a client organization in the transportation industry. Two units that needed to collaborate were in conflict. One was the project management team, and the other was the operations/manufacturing team. They seemed to have competing goals and different priorities. They were out of alignment. We measured alignment on both teams. We provided an intervention, focusing our efforts at on mutual empathy, respect and trust. After that, the teams worked much better together to finish the project and deliver the product on time as partners.
Here are four steps to improve your team’s realignment:
1. Measure your group’s alignment. Determine the baseline. This requires assessment. Just like the alignment diagnostic test that mechanics use, this baseline assessment can help your team see where it needs to realign.
2. Examine the foundations of alignment and make a plan. Becoming more aligned usually requires improvements to empathy, respect and trust. Where does your team need to work? More importantly, how are you going to get there? These questions will serve as the guide to your plan.
3. Make important changes. This is the process of intervention. Change will likely take time and require effort by your team. Your team will first need to recognize its flaws and the importance of making changes to improve. Then it will have to embrace the goal of moving forward. This follows Kurt Lewin’s three-part model of change, suggesting that first comes “unfreezing,” then “movement” and finally “refreezing.” Hence, any changes will need to be solidified into a reinforced new team culture. This means a one-time intervention is unlikely to be enough. Most teams need an initial meeting and then several follow-up sessions to “refreeze” the key changes that will help their development.
4. Measure again. In effect, this is a time to evaluate how well the intervention worked. If it was successful and your team is considerably more aligned than before, your work is done. However, most post-intervention evaluations reveal that some planned changes were successful while others weren’t. This may lead you back into a reassessment or maybe straight to a new plan to continue your team’s development.
Don’t wait. Now is the time to take your team through realignment.