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How to Align With Your Team to Overcome Any Obstacle One way or another, we need alignment: Team effort is built upon it.

By Simin Cai, Ph.D. Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I see it every day, all the time: different perspectives, power struggles and personalities out of alignment. In any industry, leaders and managers are constantly solving problems and making decisions of all sizes that often require team collaboration. While one solution may not be able to consider every single dimension of a problem, we can come to a decision that considers enough dimensions to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible. That step, however, is easier said than done.

How do we overcome the obstacles of different perspectives and create alignment to make better decisions as a team? By aligning each individual piece in the same direction.

With everyone aligned around scope, criteria and mentality, no matter how different our roles, we all know the right direction to row. An effective team effort depends on this alignment.

Related: 'The Alignment Factor': Collaboration Is the Backbone of Alignment

Align scope to focus on the problem

To start a productive conversation that results in effective solutions, the first place where a team should be aligned is on the scope. To do that, we need to align our perspectives on the scope of the problem. Different people could perceive the scope of a challenge differently. Until the scope is aligned, any discussion is unlikely to help solve the problem.

A couple evaluating their dog's diet, for example, might have different scopes: One partner might be talking about the dog's diet for the animal's health, while the other is concerned with how much it affects the monthly budget. Both topics are important, but they need to be addressed separately. Once they identify which is of greater importance, budget or diet, they can align around that scope and have a meaningful discussion.

Address scope first to draw a boundary around the intended purpose within which to find an applicable solution. This anchors team brainstorming to a focal point while allowing for as many divergent ideas as possible that stay within that scope. Let everyone contribute their perspective, but throw out anything that diverges.

Align criteria toward results

After the scope is defined, we need to align around criteria — which can be used to judge a solution as good or bad — to help narrow down those possible solutions with consensus among the team.

A CMO and CFO may have very different problems to solve, for instance, market share for the CMO and profit margin for the CFO. This may result in an argument when making decisions, even when examining the same scope, like a branding budget. To work together on this decision, they need to establish the criteria they will use to evaluate the value of their solutions: Higher profit margins for the year or brand building for the long run? Then, management teams can align and focus their solutions around what brings the most value to the company. Both the CMO and CFO may make their own decisions in operations as long as such decisions have a positive impact measured by that shared set of criteria.

By successfully setting this type of shared criteria among team members, you're creating a general standard that can be used to measure results. The criteria act as guardrails, minimizing the possibility of team members making counter efforts and eliminating arguments over the final results.

Related: Why Team Building is Essential for Your Business Success

Align interests for a common benefit

For effective problem-solving as a team, all parties need to be able to see the transition from our own perspectives to that of others, and each party involved should benefit at least in some perspective(s). If I go into a decision feeling like I have to win a battle, this transition of perspectives is not likely to take place. The mentality of winning or losing is a zero-sum game — I win at the cost of your loss. Instead, we need to start on the same side of solving the problem.

Of course, some people may be unwilling to move from their own perspective. This means the scope can no longer be a simple matter of solving the problem. We have to first stretch our scope in a slightly different direction — in this case, to my relationship with or the team dynamics around that person — before coming back to that original one.

First, I try to evaluate that person's motivation to win. Is this related to this person's personal interest? Or is it just a personality issue? If it's related to personal interest, I focus on aligning this person's interest with the team's. This way, the individual can realize the personal benefit of the team achieving their goal. If it is just a matter of personality, I would help them understand the damage of their personality, at the expense of the team failing to reach their goal.

In some situations, no matter how much effort you put in, people may not be able to change. Is it worth putting in more effort? This judgment call is based on the criteria and a return on investment (ROI) concept. When your efforts can no longer be justified in reaching the team goal, you may have to make the tough choice to leave that particular person out of the decision-making process for the sake of achieving the overarching objective. Once you resolve this divergent scope for the team, everyone can return to aligning around solving the original problem.

To effectively solve any problem, we must consider all possible solutions at that time by analyzing which factors are within our control and which are unavoidable obstacles. This will allow you to focus your time and effort on actions that ultimately result in progress.

Alignment is built on team effort

When the team moves as a whole and works in unity, they become more powerful than any individual on the team. If the team works sporadically and is out of alignment, it might be better to have a single person on the job. Rather than fighting to find solutions, everyone in alignment can work together to find better ones more efficiently.

Related: The 4 Levels of Organizational Alignment

Align interests around solving a problem so the team can work as a whole. This is one of the most instrumental steps you can take toward solving the problem. Of course, there may still be arguments, but the foundation of interest alignment in a problem makes it easier to align the scope and criteria for solving it. Even two different departments with different agendas and scopes, like sales and accounting, should be able to find a common denominator in their alignment with the company's scope and interests. When we get all parties on the same side, we find more and better solutions. The framework of this process is universal and applicable to any problem-solving scenario, from agreeing on dog food brands to aligning board-level initiatives or anything else in between.

Simin Cai, Ph.D.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & CEO of Go!Foton

Dr. Simin Cai is the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Go!Foton – a cutting-edge company bringing innovation to the global photonics market.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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