As organizations design new approaches, implement new processes, and create new structures to respond to unprecedented change, one constant remains the same. The value of creating and working with teams is pivotal to an organization’s ability to solve complex challenges. Our experience suggests that teams are highly beneficial to organizational success because, when aligned and properly functioning, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Team members contribute different valuable assets and skills, and they complement those of other team members, to enable the group to produce better results. However, in order to obtain these benefits, the team members must work to get to know and understand one another and establish working norms, shared purpose, and aligned systems and processes.
In order to function at its peak, high performing teams require psychological safety – a trusting environment in which members communicate openly and with authenticity, use active listening and reflective questioning, engage in collaborative participation, and have a means by which conflict is resolved in a constructive manner. High-functioning teams also self-reflect and institute a continuous cycle of evaluation and course correction to ensure the success of individual and collective goals. Clearly the benefits of highly aligned teams are plentiful. However, many challenges exist to establishing high functionality.
What are some challenges to team alignment?
- Defining the team: A work group is a collection of individuals that come together around a purpose, but each person has different duties that they fulfill independently. On the other hand, a team has shared goals and purpose, as well as shared accountability. Teams require synergy and cohesion, which emerges from complementary values, knowledge, and temperaments. Being able to recognize this distinction is critical prior to implementing a team alignment initiative.
- Virtual teams: Teams today often do not sit in the same physical environment, which can make the process of alignment more challenging. Establishing trust, rapport, and open communication are more easily achieved in person, but are equally important in a virtual setting.
- Mixed motivation: If some team members, or the team as a whole, are not prepared or motivated to focus on alignment, it will be impossible to achieve. Commitment and dedication on the part of all those involved – and understanding obstacles that can impede alignment — is crucial to the success of teams.
What can organizations do to align their teams?
- Setting the stage. The first step is to gain an understanding of the team’s current status and desired future state. This involves getting to know the team, and the team getting to know itself, in several ways. Individuals share their unique qualities and stories, and the team determines its collective purpose, responsibilities, ground rules, and decision making processes.
- Implement team development and acceleration process. Teams need to construct a clear developmental roadmap for themselves, which includes framing the context, as well as detailed discussions of planned changes and improvements. This also involves discussing plans for how to sustain changes and improvements. The design of actionable strategies allows team members to focus on team goals while developing individual and team competencies. Each team member takes responsibility for holding one another accountable to ensure that the acceleration process is sustained.
- Sustainability. This process is cyclical and involves constant reevaluation and feedback. It is important for teams to communicate openly as they implement changes and take new steps to continually enhance performance.
The purpose of team alignment is to enhance team performance and sustain it over the long term. High functionality within teams is supported by a high performance company culture and produces better business outcomes. Team alignment is especially crucial for senior leadership teams, because they set the cultural tone across their organization which is cascaded down to the rest of the organization. It is critical that senior leadership teams model proper team alignment in order to demonstrate the behaviors necessary to optimize team performance throughout their organizations.