Achieving Team Alignment

Achieving Team Alignment

Ian Richardson, Managing Partner, Richardson & Richardson Consulting LLC

Team Alignment is Rowing a Boat

Story is an amazing mechanism for teaching a concept, especially one as abstract as achieving team alignment. Alignment, per the magic of a fast google search, means to be “arranged in a straight line, or in correct and appropriate positions.” So, if we’re “out of alignment” it means we’re occupying incorrect or inappropriate positions.

The famous analogy around this topic is “get everyone rowing in the same direction.” If you’re part of a team of rowers (called a crew), you’re either sitting near the front (bow) of the boat (helping steer), in the middle of the boat (helping power), or at the back (stern) of the boat, helping with timing.

If you have a member of the crew who is “off pace” – they’re still working hard, still rowing, but they’re out of sync with the rest of the crew, it’s worse than if they weren’t rowing at all. The drag from the oar will significantly impact the crew’s performance.

There’s a key position in a crew called the coxswain, or cox. At the risk of offending anyone who has participated in crew, really the cox is just a cheerleader. They’re motivating the crew to row harder, faster, and better so they win the competition.

The cox will also help make sure to correct any member of the crew who is “off pace” so that disaster is avoided, and success can be achieved. Put another way, they get that member of the crew “back in line” – or in alignment with the rest of the crew.

This is what informs that saying of “get everyone rowing in the same direction.” Achieving team alignment in a business requires your business to have a solid understanding of the strength, steering, and timing needed to succeed. It also will require a coxswain to motivate, cheer on, and from time to time, course correct your “crew.”

Achieving Team Alignment

So how do we achieve alignment? It’s certainly not as simple as yelling at your crew with a bullhorn when they are missing on timing.

As with all things – there’s no silver bullet here, but there are a few things that make up a recipe for success.

  • Clearly define your “why”: Simon Sinek states this very well – once your team feels “safe” in your organization, they’re going to want to understand what’s the purpose of their work. No one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time or that their work has no meaning. A Garbage collector doesn’t “pick up trash”, they “empower communities to maximize enjoyment of their spaces through waste management services.” – That why makes it personal and invigorating.
  • Show people how they impact the organization’s mission and vision: Tying in individuals, teams, and the organization into vision progress is vital to get people engaged with that vision. The crew member needs to understand how their individual oars help move the boat.
  • Consistency: Above all else – making sure your organization’s visionary (the coxswain) is clearly and consistently articulating the mission, vision, and values of the company, as well as how the company is doing is crisis critical to alignment. People need to be kept in the loop and must hear the same information over and again not only to comprehend, but to establish belief in its importance.

Resources to Consider

We’ve written quite a bit of material on related topics around alignment. I’ve collected a few of them here for ease of reference:

  1. Choosing Core Values:
  2. Cheerleading your vision:
  3. Building a Vision:

Final Thoughts

Alignment isn’t easy. Getting a team motivated and in lockstep towards a common goal takes communication, empathy, hard work, and discipline. Keeping an eye on consistent messaging and making sure that you vocalize why the company matters and how each person involved helps change the destiny of the organization and those it serves can help make sure your company is aligned, and nobody has to get yelled at from the front of the boat.

If you’re struggling to achieve alignment, create an inspiring vision statement, or get your team to “row towards” it, Richardson & Richardson can help. Check out our case studies for stories of organizations that we’ve assisted with similar issues and download our white papers for deep dives on tools you can use in your organization. If you’re wondering where to start, book a complimentary session with one of the Richardsons today to come up with a plan on how to move forward.


Share this Post