This blog will:
- Define strategic alignment
- Share a process for improving alignment between two departments or teams
- Map the value and benefits of alignment (metrics)
Strategic alignment is the practice of aligning individual and team goals with organizational objectives, and more broadly, aligning all of the organization’s resources (human, financial, systems, relationships, etc.) with the organization’s vision, strategy, and core values for efficient and effective execution of mission & strategy.
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Here is a relatively simple process for creating strategic alignment between two teams or functions.
Ideally, the top 3 or 4 members from each team should meet and work through the following process together. An outside facilitator can be helpful but you can also use an experienced volunteer / colleague from another department.
First, have each team present their key business objectives/priorities/KPIs for the year (high level). Have both lists up on the white board or flip charts at the same time for easy comparison, contrast, and connections. (It is helpful to see both lists at the same time.) Encourage brief discussion around common goals & interests; how the two sets of goals relate to each other; and how the two sets of goals contribute to organizational vision and strategy.
Second, have each team present a list of what they most want & need from each other, i.e., what each team needs from the other team. Encourage brief discussion around what both lists have in common, unmet needs, where the major hand-offs are, and any major opportunities for improving collaboration between the two teams.
For extremely complex work flows, it can be helpful to also have the two teams map their processes—especially where the work of either team affects the other team.
At this point you can discuss two diagnostic type questions:
- Is there any overlap or duplication of efforts?
- Is anything falling through the cracks between our two teams?
I also find this additional “open-terrain” question useful:
- Short version: How do we want to work together; what kind of relationship do we want to have?
- Long version: How can we coordinate and collaborate to honor each other’s needs and gifts, have the most fun, be most productive, and achieve our most ambitious targets?
I encourage general conversation through these initial conversations. Record ideas and possibilities for action as you go, and save decision making until the end—when all the angles have been considered.
Decisions and Planning:
It’s wasteful to spend a bunch of time debating the first issues that are raised—they might turn out to be minor issues by the end of the discussion. If you collect good ideas throughout the initial discussions, you will have the luxury of having lots of good ideas to choose from, and will find it easier to identify the issues most worth discussing.
When you feel you are ready, use any standard decision making or prioritization process you are comfortable with. Follow up and follow through will of course be crucial (see here).
Key success factors:
- Run the whole meeting collaboratively—improving collaboration requires a collaborative, partnering approach.
- When past errors and failures are tabled, turn the discussion to the future: what you want, what would work better, the opportunity for improvement.
- Include the key questions that will be discussed in the agenda so people can prepare and bring some relevant ideas.
- At the beginning of the meeting establish that we are all on the same side; that trust and respect are crucial to teamwork; and that teamwork is crucial to organizational effectiveness. I also like to point out that, while problems will be addressed, the focus will be positive, i.e., focusing on opportunities for improvement is far more important than pointing fingers about the past.
- If the discussion becomes toxic (destructive), and you can’t turn it around, don’t make people suffer—cancel and reschedule. If you need to, bring in a professional facilitator or conflict resolution expert for the next meeting.
Strategic alignment has a substantial impact on organizational effectiveness and business success. Here are some sample metrics (impact analysis):
Risks and costs of poor alignment:
- Conflicting agendas; hidden agendas; miscommunication; mis-alignment
- Silos behavior; turf wars; working at cross purposes
- Wasted time and resources; inefficiency; duplication of efforts
- Poor morale, motivation, and effort (engagement)
- Lower productivity
- Unclear priorities; poor management of priorities
- Higher absenteeism & turnover
- Opportunity costs: missing opportunities for improvement & development
Benefits of solid alignment:
- Better big picture focus
- Clearer goals and better goal achievement
- More strategic / meaningful / targeted use of resources
- Better able to share resources and leverage synergies
- Better communication, teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration
- Better coordination of efforts; smoother hand-offs
- Greater loyalty to the team and company
- Enhanced trust & respect
It is important to think about / agree on your metrics before the meeting, and of course, prior to completing your plan. If you know what you want, you have a better chance of getting it. That is, you can proactively shape the agenda, facilitate the discussion, and build a solution (plan of action) that gives you exactly what you want.
This is part of a four part series on prioritizing and alignment:
- Setting priorities: 2 x 2 grid shortcut
- Aligning goals with organizational objectives
- Aligning teams
- Auditing your priorities
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