This Is Why Your Team Isn't Getting Results Even Though Everyone Is Working Hard
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Lack of team alignment isn’t just a problem in organizations today. It’s a flat-out emergency. In a recent MindManager survey of knowledge workers, 77 percent of respondents reported that not enough time is spent ensuring alignment on risks and opportunities. More than half of those respondents traced that lack of alignment directly to interpersonal conflict, wasted personnel resources and stalled or failed projects
As a longtime sales and marketing leader, often heading up both groups at the same time, I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of aligning people within and across teams, in service of a common goal. When it happens, it’s glorious. Choirs of angels sing, KPIs are knocked out of the park and there’s an incomparable band-of-brothers-and-sisters camaraderie thanks to a job done well, together.
But when it’s a miss, it can be devastating, not only to hard numbers on a P&L, but to morale, confidence, trust and happiness -- all the soft bits that ultimately bind a team together and keep a business standing firm. In an age of hyper-connectivity and 24/7 messaging, how is it even possible for teams to drift so far apart that action items disappear, deadlines are blown, to-dos become didn’ts and projects fail? Aren’t we all sitting in on the same meetings and seeing the same emails? Weren’t we all added to the same Slack channel?
Yes, and therein lies the problem. Effective communication hangs in a delicate quantity/quality balance. Specifically, what, how and how much should we communicate to the people and teams we lead about the projects we’re tasked with executing?
Here are five signs your team may be careening towards a derailment, and some suggestions that can help get everyone back on the same track, and headed in the right direction.
You don’t have a “why”
I consider Simon Sinek’s legendary TED talk, Start With Why to be must-see viewing. Watch it for some brilliant observations about the critical importance of distinguishing your business -- not by WHAT you do or how you do it, but first and foremost, by WHY you do it.
As goes the macro, so goes the micro. Projects that aren’t driven by an openly stated, shared fundamental purpose are doomed, alignment-wise. If 10 team members give you anything more than one answer to the question, “Why are we doing this project?” you’ve got some work to do.
The “why” needs to come from the top down, and be repeated with frequency. Make it a mantra. Turn it into a hashtag. Raise it up as your north star and rally your team around it at every opportunity. You’ll align and inspire in one fell swoop.
You aren’t adequately tracking buy-in
Buy-in is not a silent gesture, grunted assent, second-hand assurance that “she’s good with it,” or the absence of a hard "no." It’s a concrete declaration that typically comes at the end of an energetic, often heated conversation.
Get your key points clarified and your stakeholders together to discuss them, virtually or in person, as early on as possible. Document each individual’s agreement to each item during that meeting, and save the note in a shared location. Then reiterate exactly what was decided and who agreed in a follow-up email sent to all. Rinse and repeat the process when subsequent questions arise that require stakeholder buy-in.
Overkill? Not if you want to avoid potentially devastating misunderstandings down the line.
Your information is decentralized.
The common term for alignment is, of course, “getting everyone on the same page.” Note: the page. Not five, 20 or 100. When the information needed to properly understand and execute a plan or project is spread out across disconnected documents, spreadsheets, decks, repositories and platforms, some degree of misalignment is practically inevitable.
Decide on a single shared source of truth for your project and stick with it. You want something that can nimbly ingest and integrate all of those disparate resources and represent them in a clear, organized and user-friendly way. MindManager, for example, pulls scattered information into a dynamic visual dashboard that’s fun and easy to work with, supports tons of metadata and integrates with hundreds of applications.
Share your “single source of truth” at every meeting so that team members acclimate to seeing and working with it. Respond to every stray message, attachment, update and idea with, “Please add this to the map/sheet/ticket/dashboard.” It may take some time for people to get in the habit, but the payoff in transparency and alignment is well worth it.
Decisions are made in sidebars
Selective email distribution lists, impromptu one-on-ones or conversations during unrelated meetings can be alignment killers when managed the wrong way. Decisions made and actions advanced this way not only subvert established workflows, but also engender confusion, mistrust and disenfranchisement, and erode cohesiveness.
Identify everyone who will be impacted by what you’re discussing and bring them into the conversation as soon as possible. Create a specific place within your project dashboard where people can track relevant offline discussions, and a time in each meeting when they’re shared with the larger team.
Be vigilant about keeping everyone in the loop. Your project outcomes and team dynamics will be better for it.
Your communication loops are broken.
Misalignment is rarely an act of deliberate sabotage. Rather, it’s typically the consequence of inadequate communication, both incoming and outgoing. Questions get lost, answers get missed, different people hear different things and before long, team members are moving in different directions, or not moving at all.
Start every meeting or call with a quick restatement of the overarching WHY, and the specific goals of the project or task at hand. Spend time reviewing open issues, task status, decisions and required action items -- then afterwards, send a succinct, no-reply-required email to the team summarizing all of them.
Will the repetition garner some eye-rolls? Maybe. Will it keep the information transparent, top of mind and difficult to forget? Absolutely. Not many of us loved repeating multiplication tables. But almost all of us can say what two times three equals without a second’s thought -- and we all agree on the answer.
I like to remind myself and my colleagues that the difference between work and wreck is only a few tiny letters. Small fissures can lead to big divides among team members if left unattended. But if you can spot and remedy shaky alignment early on -- and establish foundational structures and processes that will prevent it altogether -- your projects will be well-positioned for success.