Pulling together teams of talented individuals is only half the battle when you’re looking to grow your business or execute a strategy, it’s equally important to make sure everyone is aligned and pointing in the same direction.
Unfortunately, there are common reasons why this doesn’t happen. It means businesses don’t perform to their full potential or even completely fail. Make sure you know the pitfalls so you're able to look out for them, avoid them and continue on your journey to strategic success and growth!
Why do you need team alignment?
Simply put, you need good team alignment to achieve your business goals! It's as simple as that. Trying to drive through a strategy or grow your business will be near impossible without all of your people working well together, communicating effectively and operating efficiently.
If you're able to nail your team alignment you will enjoy the following benefits...
- Happy, motivated team members
- Increased collaboration fostering more creativity and innovation
- Less conflict or confusion
- Increased operational efficiency
- Faster decision making
- Easier to spot talent gaps
- Increased understanding of the complete customer journey
- Even a better, smoother customer experience!
So it's well worth getting this right.
What stops team alignment?
In a lot of cases the fastest way to better team alignment is to look for the barriers that are currently stopping your teams working well together and remove them. With that in mind, here are the most common things that prevent effective team alignment.
Look through the list and see if you recognize any of these issues within your business and start to build your action plan to bash down these barriers and have everyone working harmoniously and pointing in the same direction.
Let's look at each problem in more detail...
Hopefully this is an obvious one! If you don’t have a single vision for the business, your team don’t know the ultimate outcome everyone is supposed to be working towards.
Don’t see creating a company vision as a box ticking exercise. It’s about setting the direction of your company, it’s about firing up passion in your team, and mobilizing a group of talented people who are all focused on the same ambition, working in the same direction.
Having a clear, memorable, motivating Vision Statement has to be the starting point for any team alignment efforts. So if you don't currently have one, check out both our Ultimate Guide to Company Vision Statements and our list of Examples of Company Vision Statements.
Lack of Structure
Having a vision alone is not enough, you need to be able to agree as a team how you are going to achieve that vision. This is where one of the most common issues around building and executing a business growth plan occurs. If you don’t have a consistent, structured format for people to easily understand, then the plan will not be effectively executed.
We’ve all been there before in meetings.... The latest growth plan or strategy is presented in a PowerPoint slide deck, version 2 circulated in a Word document for comments, and then subsequently reported on in an Excel spreadsheet. There’s no easily comparable format between them and it’s hard to see how plans flow into a single strategic vision.
The lack of structure makes it hard for teams to understand what needs to be done, understand how they fit into the plans, and understand why the activity helps the bigger picture.
Luckily, if you think this is an issue for you, there are a number of existing approaches you can use to set out a structure for the execution of your vision, strategy and objectives.
One of the most popular methods of structuring a strategy or growth plan is the Strategy Tree. This methodology is used by companies who operate OKRs and provides high level objectives, specific Goals and Projects, before moving on to the individual tasks that have to happen.
You can read more in our Guide to Using a Strategy Tree. The Strategy Tree is also the approach you'll find when you use Lucidity to run your strategy planning. Within the system you'll have a clearly laid-out, easy to understand strategy that is consistent, always up-to-date and full joined up.
Alternative approaches to structuring your strategy include:
Trying to Do Too Much
“You can do anything but you can’t do everything” is a good phrase when it comes to strategic planning. In terms of team alignment, this surfaces in a few ways:
Too Many Strategic Objectives:
Referring back to the structured approach above, companies should not have more than 3-6 major strategic objectives. If you have more then it becomes hard to focus on the right activities that are moving the strategy forward. Teams fail when they take on too much.
In businesses that are failing to achieve their strategy it’s common that work is going on which is not moving the company forward. This is a strange phenomenon, as it’s often not due to any intention from team members. A lot of this comes back to the structure mentioned above and asking two questions:
- How is this related to the strategy?
- Will it move the business forward?
Even when a business has the right number of strategic objectives with a clear list of goals and tasks associated with each, if teams do not prioritize those tasks one by one then you may end up in a situation where a lot of tasks have been started but getting things done and completed is slow.
If you've managed to hone your Objectives down, stripped out unrelated work, you may well still have a decent length list of strategically important jobs to do. Team members cannot execute all these important tasks simultaneously, but without clear prioritization they might feel like they should! Good team alignment needs clarity around priority order.
When it's not clear in what order tasks should be completed (based on what will be make the biggest impact on the goal/objective/overall strategy) then there can be a tendency to try and start everything at once and juggle lots of tasks at the same time. That will always mean delayed completion. Much better to take each job one at a time, have a deadline, hit it and then move onto the next job. Much more will get accomplished that way and teams will get more job satisifaction and be happier.
Strategy isn’t a birthday. It shouldn’t happen once a year. If you don't keep reporting on progress and tracking results, the plan will be forgotten and your teams will disenage, switch off and go back to just focusing on the day-to-day in their own silo, losing sight of what will make the most difference to the business and how they fit into the bigger picture.
Your strategy plan should be a living, breathing thing - not a static spreadsheet or a few slides presented once and put away. To ensure teams are aligned and stay aligned, they need to see the strategy as the ongoing focus that sets their purpose and direction. So it needs to be always visible.
It's not a case of re-presenting the same plan over and over - this isn't an exercise in learning lines! You need to be tracking and showing progress. Nothing is more motivating for teams than seeing wins, no matter how small. Keeping everyone abreast of how the strategy is going, what milestones are being hit and how they're making a difference will keep everyone focused on the strategic goals and seeing their role within the overall larger organization.
Close tracking of progress and reporting on results will also mean problems are picked up sooner rather than later. Tracking KPIs and looking at goal milestones on a regular basis will quickly surface any performance issues and flag any problems. The faster problems are solved, the less impact they have, the happier everyone is 😁
Different approaches to communicating a strategy or reporting progress within a business is often a challenge. Nick who manages design may be an Excel powerhouse, whereas Priyanka in sales prefers to report numbers with a PowerPoint deck.
While both 'do the job', it’s hard to see them in the context of the wider strategy and that can cause a few issues:
- It’s harder for managers to understand each other’s reporting
- It’s hard to interpret the reporting side by side
- It takes longer to get to the information you need
- Decision making can be harder and slower
- It reinforces a silo mentality and working environment
The final point to consider when looking at team alignment is values. You may think this is an odd one but sharing common values is a really important part of team alignment.
Having shared values means conflicts can be resolved much easier, alternative viewpoints can be understood and there is a feeling of a shared good. It’s difficult to pull together a talented team with fully aligned values, so the next best thing is ensuring your values are not incompatible.
The best way of achieving value compatibility is to pull together and communicate out your company values and have those influence your recruitment process.
Never underestimate how important it is to hire new team members with values that align to the core values of the business. They will be far more likely to be motivated by your vision, happy in their work and aligned with their team mates.
If you suspect you're working in a siloed environment, with teams operating in isolation, focused on their own, narrower priorities and plans, then you'll likely recognize some or all of these common problems.
Recognizing the problem is the first step to recovery of course! So now that you know what the issues are, you can address each in turn and decide on some positive actions to remove that barrier to effective team alignment and start to bring everyone together, driving your business forward.
Good luck to you and your teams!
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