Creating alignment is one of the greatest leadership challenges, particularly when leading large, dispersed teams through times of change. It is even more important during times of uncertainty with teammates working remotely. Alignment enables agility and speed. Misalignment leads to frustration, wasted effort, conflict, and ultimately, disengagement.
What change are you leading?
Are you growing a new business unit in response to shifting demand?
Are you building a diverse and inclusive organization?
Are you cutting costs to prevent layoffs?
Before launching a significant change, start by aligning your team around a shared purpose. The purpose should clearly articulate why you are making this change or why the team exists. Getting clear on your purpose helps team members understand the context of the work ahead.
Here’s an example: Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, the Purpose of the IT department at a fashion retailer – “Clothing World”, was to help simplify internal business processes and increase efficiencies. The department included over 400 team members working on an array of projects in support of the stores and the distribution operation.
As soon as the pandemic hit, over 80% of Clothing World’s customers went to on-line shopping. But Clothing World did not have an existing IT infrastructure to support the high volume of new online shoppers and had to adapt if they were going to survive. They had to quickly develop the infrastructure for Clothing World’s customers to have top-notch shopping experience, all online.
Let’s look closely at the change in Purpose for the IT department: Old Purpose: To simplify internal business processes and increase efficiencies.
New Purpose: To develop and support the IT infrastructure for our customers to have the best online shopping experience.
As the change in Purpose was communicated across the IT department, team members were able to creatively contribute, take initiative, and focus on what mattered most to ensure the best online customer experience and the success of the entire company.
Purpose is one important alignment tool, but alone it is not enough. Leaders must also be clear on their Intent. Intent is akin to painting the big picture. Consider the following questions as they relate to the change you are leading: What does success look like for your organization, team, or particular project? Where are you headed? What is the desired future state and what are the high-level priorities in order to achieve it?
The challenge for leaders is to provide enough direction to inspire action without micromanaging the team. The Intent provides the focus and understanding required to set the conditions for empowerment. Without a clear Intent, team members work in silos and lack a broader understanding of how their individual project is contributing to the organization’s success.For example, Big Window Manufacturing did not develop an Intent for their new Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity initiative (DEI).
The leaders were well-intended and wanted to do something quickly so they decided to hold implicit bias trainings for everyone. But because they did not first do the work to articulate their shared vision for success, team members were unclear on where the organization was headed and how the new training fit into the big picture. It appeared as though the training was a one-off undertaking, happening in a vacuum.
Big Window leadership could have answered the following questions to cultivate clarity and alignment with Intent: What does success look like relative to DEI? What has to happen in order to achieve success? What are our new priorities?
These high-yield questions are best answered by engaging in collaborative dialogue across the organization. Words really matter. It’s important to clearly articulate and share your Intent so that team members can understand where the organization is heading and contribute to its success. The Intent will also set expectations for trainings and programs that will follow, and allow team members to take initiative in a focused and constructive way.Are you struggling with frustration caused by misalignment? Help improve the experience of work for your team members by removing misunderstandings and confusion. It’s not too late to get serious about aligning your team.