Think of the best team you’ve been a part of… it could be a sports team, a musical group, a project team, your interactions with your siblings or spouse. As you reflect on your best teams, what comes to mind for you?
When I ask people about this, I get a lot of great answers, but the most frequent reflection is that these teams accomplished more than they thought possible! The next thing that comes up was how the team was completely in sync; each person was aligned on the destination and how their individual contributions were relevant and valuable.
So, if we know that great teams are aligned and thus accomplish more than they think is possible, why don’t we experience it more at work? There are a lot of reasons, but one that I see more and more is the complexity we all face at work today. Everything is moving faster with more and more information coming your way (I’d insert a statistic to prove it here, but you’d roll your eyes because you’ve seen it all before). This complexity makes getting and staying in alignment as a team more and more difficult. Here are five things you can do to drive alignment with your team today:
- Create shared purpose.
I could write an entire blog on this… but you can start today by checking in with your colleagues to be sure that you all have a common view of where you are going… and why. If you hear different perspectives, you have some work to do. If that’s the case, have a group discussion the next time you are together. Usually the disconnects are small and can be resolved quickly. If the team has bigger differences, the faster you know, the better you can respond! (And no, ignoring the known disconnects doesn’t work).
- Clarify roles.
Once you have a great view of where you are going, it’s critical to understand the role each person plays… and give them the space, support and authority to deliver. If you can point to your role and the role of others clearly then you are all set. If you don’t know, then it’s time for clarification. Ask the team leader or your manager for clarification. If you are unclear on a hand off between you and another team member or even outside the team, call the person and see if their perspective adds clarity.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
Just because a team is aligned today, doesn’t mean you will stay aligned. Staying in alignment requires frequent small check-ins. The key here is to keep communications simple and short. Do you have a Slack channel or another means for everyone to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously? If not, you should consider setting one up. Use your internal site or set up a Slack or Google Hangout, there are free versions and they work great. Don’t use e-mail for this, it doesn’t work for that anymore!!
- Use common language.
This one seems silly, but I’ve seen a lot of teams who can’t get in sync because they are using terms differently and are not clear of what others mean. So, if you are not clear, don’t be afraid to ask… and don’t be afraid to get specific about something, even if you feel it may slow things down.
- Commit to active listening.
Communication is not a one-way street and things change as you move toward your goals. Question your assumptions, listen to hear other’s perspectives and check your understanding… even when you think you don’t need to. Having a culture that values and practices active listening creates an environment that allows people to open up, challenge the team’s thinking and ultimately improves performance. Even when you don’t agree, the team will feel heard and it’s much easier to stay aligned. Alignment isn’t achieved over night… so don’t get discouraged. Implementing these practices on a regular basis will help accelerate your progress and improve your chances of capturing that feeling of being in the groove!