global leadership challenges

The stages of alignment – How leaders can help their teams work collaboratively

Is there a lack of collaboration within your organization? Do you feel like there is a divide within your team that causes members or divisions to work independently? Team alignment can be difficult to achieve, but it is an important aspect of leading a successful organization. Alternatively, departmental divide can fragment your customer experience and inhibit growth.

A team that is not aligned needs an effective leader who can bring them together and boost collaboration. Those walls need to be broken down. An organization’s team must collaborate to achieve success through a common goal. Without alignment, unknown gaps start to appear and may impact the customer’s experience. Accountability and transparency are lost. Since both deliver a more streamlined customer experience, your business will undoubtedly suffer if you don’t plan to alleviate the misalignment.

What is organizational alignment?

Also known as team alignment, organizational alignment refers to the common goal or vision held by individuals within company that leads to company success. Through working together and collaborating in a way that pushes organizational objectives, you can create a company atmosphere that delivers to your customers without the frustration a lot of senior management teams feel like they’re dealing with every day.

Why team alignment is important for leaders

Maintaining leadership alignment can be a challenging task because alignment is required at multiple levels. Although this can be overwhelming, it is important to strive for alignment at all levels of an organization. Leadership is only aligned when the entire team is working together to accomplish a common purpose.

 

What is the result of an aligned team? You’ll see an increase in productivity, a strong support network, focus, commitment, collaboration, and, most importantly, overall improvement in morale.

 

Each of these benefits not only contribute to the success of the organization, but they help with the ability to overcome periods of dysfunction.

 

Since leaders work with other senior members of the organization and are the bridge between owners/stakeholders and the rest of the team, it is vital that they’re not only working in alignment with each other but are actively promoting alignment within their teams.

 

Aligned vs misaligned teams – What are the signs?

The first thing a team leader needs to do to create team alignment is identify is whether their team is misaligned in the first place. If you have an aligned team, you should see:

 

  • Efficient execution of work
  • Enhanced collaboration between teams
  • Clear tasks and clear communication
  • Projects delivered on time and on scope
  • Team and company achieved goals
  • Accurate 360 degree view of the customer
  • Greater accountability
  • High team engagement and high employee retention
  • Defined channels for project management and communication

 

Misaligned teams, on the other hand, show:

 

  • Repeated or overlapping work
  • Miscommunication or confusion
  • Frequently missed deadlines
  • Team and company repeatedly come up short on goals
  • Low team engagement and high employee turnover
  • Endless meetings and email chains.

 

Another simple way of finding out if your organization has team alignment is to ask the teams themselves. They’ll tell you, and they’ll tell you where the issues are.

 

Use a mixture of one-to-ones and team meetings to determine what is happening within your organization and, if there is any misalignment, work to correct it.

Developing a team

If you’re building or inheriting a team, there are several methods you can use to try to promote alignment. One method is Bruce Truckman’s helpful guide, published in 1965. This method walks through the four main stages of alignment, emphasizing that all teams will experience each point at one time or another.

 

These are:

 

  1. forming
  2. storming
  3. norming
  4. performing.

 

Understanding the stages of alignment

 

  1. Forming

At this stage, the team first meets one another. Introductions are important here and should be facilitated by the leader, who should highlight each member’s background and skill sets. At this stage, members will be provided with project details and the opportunity to organise responsibilities.

 

  1. Storming

At this stage, team members open-up and share with one another. They utilize the opportunity to stand out and show their peers what they have to offer the team. The team leader’s role here is to aid and to create a plan to manage any competition that may occur. Leaders should make sure communication flows easily, and the project remains on track.

 

  1. Norming

At this stage, the team should understand how they can work in alignment with each other and how their individual skills can bring about an agreed and clearly communicated goal. Competition is over at this stage, and the responsibilities and purpose are clear. Efficiency should rise, and the team will have learned, through practice and guidance, how to share ideas and listen to feedback, whilst working towards the same common goal.

 

  1. Performing

At this stage, cohesion and trust between team members are high. Peak efficiency is reached, and oversight from the team leader is reduced. This stage is important, as it shows your team that you trust them.  Issues will still arise from time to time, but the team will be able to respond using a clear strategy and not compromise progress or timelines in the process.

How remote work affects team alignment

In these unpredictable post-pandemic days, working from home is becoming an increasingly popular option for many businesses. It gives employees a better work-life balance. But how do you keep your employees in alignment when they’re working from different locations?

 

It’s important we understand the above stages of team development, as these will give us a better understanding of how to get started when we wish to resolve conflicts. Further, it will help us to share information effectively, achieve better results, review outcomes, and improve productivity.

 

This information can then translate across teams, even when they are working from home. Although the work environment has changed, the objectives have stayed the same.

 

Although it may be difficult to assemble a great set of high performing remote workers, it can be done by establishing team cohesiveness. Development is achievable, and, with guidance, it is possible to create collaboration, communication, and overall alignment between teams.

Don’t underestimate trust

Trusting your team is incredibly important, even though it might feel challenging. Where there is no trust, there is no team alignment. You must start by trusting your team to do what they were employed to do and work towards your agreed goals. It starts and ends with that.

 

Trust enables the achievement of goals and fosters alignment. Although it may be difficult during a pandemic, we need to change our ways of working to do what is best for our employees and our customers.

 

As a leader, it is your job to help set the objectives and give your team what they need to succeed.

 

And this all starts with trust.

 

Dr John Behr, an executive coach, with over 25 years of experience, says:

 

“Team alignment doesn’t happen overnight, and there will certainly be some learning curves or hurdles to get by. It takes careful strategy, planning and most notably, vision from the top down to achieve cohesive collaboration and team alignment.

 

I believe one of the most crucial baselines for collaboration and alignment in teams is trust.

 

Leaders or team members must take a leap of faith in others to work with them and for them – and to the best of their ability. If trust is lacking, then they are not going to collaborate cohesively, and may even work for the same organization in a competitive manner.

 

Teams need direction but they also need to believe they are a part of making key decision. This can be achieved when a leader takes the time to understand that when they put together a group of people who are aligned, communicative, and committed to the task at hand, together, they can achieve much more.

 

That’s why it’s so essential that leaders not only lead by example but build behaviors within the team that encourage a collaborative culture. Shying away from things like open communication, team engagement, and transparency will not deliver more respect to the leader, but it will likely hinder performance.”