With growing complexity, the importance of alignment has dramatically increased over the past 20 years.
Put simply, alignment means that parts of a whole are “on the same line” towards a common end point. In organizations, it means that departments and people have a shared understanding of the direction and basic principles of their work.
Why is alignment so important today ?
Companies that work with complex products or services need highly specialized skills and a division of labour between different specializations. While the division of labour has raised efficiency, its downside is an increase in cross-functional dependencies and conflicting priorities. Examples are the tensions arising between
- HQ and local teams
- Sales / Lending and risk management
- Marketing and R&D
Working with my clients, I have developed a simple framework to think about and to strengthen alignment in any organization or team. You will find it below, as a simple tool you can apply in your context.
There are three main levers for alignment:
The starting point and sine qua non for alignment is a shared vision, or direction in which to go. Alignment without a direction is simply not possible – there won’t be any line on which to connect the parts of the whole.
To get from A to B, shared principles for working together are needed in order to facilitate the effective collaboration between the parts. In the absence of shared principles, there will again be no straight line, but a zigzag.
Finally, both creating and maintaining alignment requires trust: trust to listen to and accept different viewpoints; trust to rely on the expertise of people from another discipline; and trust to give away individual power in order to increase collective power towards the shared vision.
And trust itself relies on clear and open communication between the parts of the whole. An agreement to hold each other accountable, and the ability to speak openly about uncertainty or mistakes.
If you are currently facing a challenge of alignment in your organization or team, let’s have a conversation.