Alignment: the Secret of High Performance Teams

On a crisp late September morning, as I stood on the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River just outside downtown Philadelphia, I witnessed a tremendous lesson on alignment. An 8-person rowing team was practicing for an upcoming race and one of the oarsmen was having difficulty staying in sync with the other seven rowers. It wasn’t that he was off by much – look at the reflection of the oars in the water and you can see the small difference in the angle of the fourth rower’s oar compared to those of his teammates. The goal of the rowing crew is to be in perfect sync with one another: oars aligned at the same angle, entering and exiting the water at the same time, the same force being exerted with each oar stroke, etc.

If this were a race, a small difference in alignment between the crew would mean that the team would not perform at its peak efficiency, and likely would not win the race. Energy would be wasted as unequal stokes would cause the boat to travel a “wobbly line” from its start to its destination. The longer the race, the more costly the compound effects of misalignment over time. Because misalignment can surface at any time during the race, the crew often includes a coxswain (far right at the bow) whose job it is to keep the crew in alignment.

The same principles of alignment are true in business (and almost every other human activity). Failure to properly align means missed goals, wasted time and resources, and a less than optimal working environment. Results range from poor to good, but never great.

Consider how well aligned each of the work teams are in which you are a member. Is some degree of misalignment keeping your team from great results?

Here are seven practical steps a work team can take to assure high levels of alignment:

1. Utilize some form of behavioral assessment (DiSC, Myers-Briggs, etc.) to identify the different behavioral types on the team, in order to understand where team members either complement one another or could be in conflict with one another. This can improve selection of individuals to teams based on a better understanding of behavioral complement and conflict.

2. Share the results of the behavioral assessment with the team, and teach what the team’s individual and collective profiles mean. With a firm understanding of this, people will be more sensitive to one another’s differences, and learn how to adapt their approach to other people and situations in order to be more effective.

3. Unite behind a clearly articulated shared vision tied to a higher purpose. Generally the leader should be offering his or her vision to the team. A higher shared purpose tends to draw out the best in people while aligning them towards the shared goal.

4. Clearly define objective(s) in detail. The more well-defined an objective, the more likely people will be in achieving it. Don’t just assume that team members all have the same level of understanding of what is to be accomplished.

5. Intentionally re-align the team at the start of every new project or initiative. The more critical the project or initiative, the more valuable this step becomes.

6. Reassess alignment periodically. The longer term the project or initiative, the more valuable this practice becomes.

7. Consider shared team-building experiences. Shared learning events, off-site activities, and other team-building measures produce a high ROI on investment through increased productivity of now-aligned people.

This article is part of the alignment tools, programs and strategies offered by Boyer Management Group and its landmark program, Unlocking the Power of Our Team. To learn more about aligning people for high performance teams, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.

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