In this blog post, we’ll be sharing our latest thinking on alignment. It’s a powerful topic and a perennial favorite. The takeaway? There are few problems that can’t be fixed through a thoughtful and respectful alignment conversation.
Three scenarios; one underlying challenge
Scenario 1: Aligning at Work. Something on your team feels “off.” While the workflow that your team designed six months ago seemed like a great idea at the time, the approach just isn’t getting you the results you need. It’s unclear whether others share your concern. What’s the next step?
Scenario 2: Aligning with Family. Family Member A is frustrated with Family Member B (again!) and calls you to vent rather than communicating directly with B (again!!!). How do you respond?
Scenario 3: Aligning with Yourself. Your to-do list is five pages long. You’ve said “yes” to lots of exciting projects, but now you’re breaking promises you made to yourself to devote time to your “big picture” goals. What do you do?
Though they’re different in some ways, all three scenarios share one key trait, and the titles of the scenarios’ probably gave it away. In each, there is a lack of alignment and you have a decision to make: Do you carry on as usual, avoiding addressing the issue head-on, hoping things magically resolve themselves? Or, do you venture down the wiser (yet harder) path: acknowledging the misalignment aloud and making time for a discussion with the people involved (or with yourself)? If you choose to pursue alignment, how do you go about it?
And — while we’re on the topic — why is it that we so often avoid aligning despite it being so obviously the better thing to do, despite the fact that aligning is almost always a surer strategy for getting our needs met? We’re all guilty of shying away from alignment conversations from time to time.
So take a moment to reflect. How do you tend to handle situations like these with your team, family, friends and yourself? Is intentional alignment a strong part of your life? If not, read on!
Alignment: Just a fancy word for “getting on the same page”
Calling for alignment might be new for you, but it doesn’t have to feel scary. What’s more, recognizing a need for alignment doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong. In fact, great teams, partners and friends find themselves aligning and realigning all the time. There’s no way around it! In the process of life, we’re continually encountering unexpected situations and interacting with others with different needs, life experiences, perspectives and approaches to solving challenges. With all these variables in play, the need for open, ongoing alignment is constant — and completely normal.
What’s more, alignment is a shared responsibility; anyone on a team or in a relationship who notices a lack of alignment can step up to get the process started. You can (re)align as often as is needed. Here are some of the topics on which you can (and should!) regularly align with the people in your life (and, in some cases, with yourself):
- The way you communicate and listen to one another
- How you respond to challenges
- The way you support and show respect to one another
- The processes you use to get things done
- The way you pass tasks back and forth
- The way you brainstorm ideas
- Shared vision, goals and priorities
- Individual needs and wishes
- How you spend your time together
- Anything else that influences how you collaborate or interact with others
In short, it’s all on the table.
The 4-step alignment process
To get you started, we’ve boiled down alignment to a simple, four-step process:
1. Recognize the need to align. Are your relationships humming along like well-oiled machines? Or do you feel confused, frustrated, disappointed, etc.? When complications arise, do you know how to talk about what’s happening with others directly, or does the word “confrontation” strike fear in your heart? Is there a steady, healthy flow of dialogue and debate in your relationships, or does groupthink take over? Get familiar with these (and other) indicators that alignment is required, then cultivate awareness. Stay on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of alignment and misalignment.
2. Call for alignment. After recognizing the need for alignment, it’s time to share that recognition with your partners, teammates, collaborators and/or family members. Though it may put you in your stretch zone, calling for alignment needn’t be a complicated task! Simply name the need for alignment in a non-judgmental way, and request that the other person (or group) schedule time for a conversation. Use an inviting, open, solution-oriented tone. Your confidence and authenticity will be contagious.
3. Create a safe space. Creating alignment doesn’t need to be a “big deal.” However, it is important that everyone feels comfortable, safe and respected. Creating safe space to align can be as simple as a few well-chosen words. On the other hand, you may need to plan the environment more sensitively, depending on the topic. For more, check out Amy Edmonson’s research on creating psychological safety.
4. Design your alignment. Once you’ve laid the groundwork and set yourselves up for success, it’s finally time to design your alignment. Keep in mind, there’s no one-size-fits-all model for alignment. Do what makes sense for you and your situation. It could take the form of a quick sidebar meeting, a daylong workshop or any other alignment ritual that you develop.
Alignment happens when we feel comfortable openly sharing and discussing our unique needs and desires, and then find a way forward together. It’s about working in the same direction, toward the same goals, all the while supporting one another’s individual needs and amplifying one another’s strengths and talents. Most importantly, it’s about having the conversations and putting the structures in place that enable you and the people in your life to operate as a team. And it’s about recognizing that alignment conversations should be happening on an ongoing basis because your relational landscape is composed of dynamic individuals who are (hopefully!) always learning, growing and changing along with you.
Try out the process and let us know how it goes! Happy aligning!