Global Leadership Perspectives

Questions for assessing the degree of alignment within your team

This article, and the assessment tool discussed, is based on the Vanry material on Building Alignment. The questions rely on and are related to the distinctions made within the more detailed paper on Building Alignment. This article provides a brief introduction to the concept and principles of alignment and offers a tool that leaders can use to assess the degree of alignment within their teams. Beyond assessing the level of alignment, the questions provide leaders with suggestions on what they might do to improve the level of alignment if they find that it is not sufficient for what they are trying to achieve.

Alignment is a commitment we make to support a decision - word, thought and deed
It's a choice we make
No one can compel us into alignment

For the sake of what do we build alignment?

Creating and sustaining relationships

  • In our personal relationships we engage with others around mutually beneficial goals in our lives.  These relationships may be with partners, family members, friends, volunteer peers, etc.
    • Although often not spoken about explicitly, our relationship holds the goals that we mutually aim towards,
    • Alignment to these goals supports harmony between us.
  • In our work and professional lives, we seek to strengthen and build sufficient relationships to hold the results we have mutually committed to producing together.
  • Particularly in organizational settings (where many people have knowledgeable and informed assessments about what is happening and what should be done) alignment offers an alternative to the ‘agree/disagree’ approach that frequently occurs during or after decision making.

Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the enterprise

  • Alignment supports active involvement and authenticity in the decision-making process, as well as the implementation of decisions.
  • It allows even those who disagree to contribute their expertise and points of view toward the best outcome possible
  • Effective Alignment reduces waste by eliminating situations or where individuals feel the need to be:
    • ‘compliant’ with decisions,
    • inauthentic in their support,
    • resigned that the direction/decision has little or no meaning for what’s important to them,
  • Alignment, as a practice, is vital to change leadership and change management.

"It is amazing how many people can hide in the cracks of misalignment between executives in an organization"

Our claims about building alignment in relationships

While alignment is necessary and valuable when applied to the ‘things’ of the enterprise, we focus here on building alignment as it applies to people and relationships.

Building alignment is a social, conversational practice among decision makers and those affected by the decisions

Alignment is a position that one takes individually, in relation to a decision made or direction taken by another person or group

  • It is not that we are ‘in alignment’ with another ‘person’ — rather, we are in alignment with a particular decision that has been made or a direction that has been declared or invented together.
  • It is specific, not an orientation or position of “in general.”
  • After a decision is made or direction declared, each person affected decides their position relative to the decision/direction.
  • Even before a decision is made, we might “test” the extent of alignment with those affected, depending on which decision model is used.

Building alignment is a practice that extends beyond the affected individuals declaring their position and committing to sustain their promise

  • Our personal declaration of alignment will have implications on others that we work with or relate to in our personal lives.
  • Decisions, large or small, significant or low impact, form the fabric of any relationship or network of relationships.
  • We frequently make decisions that affect others, often many;
  • We react to decisions, and in reacting hold opinions of our own,
  • for or against each decision.
  • The work we undertake is affected by the decisions of others as are our identities and concerns.
  • When making decisions we are obligated to consider choices about our decision building method, the transparency of that process to others, and/or the impact of any decisions on others.  Who will be affected and in what way?

The intention of alignment is to produce unity, particularly unity of action, over time

Common goals or objectives call for alignment

  • When two or more people are working effectively together, they are working towards something together; they share a common goal, mission or intention.

Starting from a position of alignment in a relationship enables faster and more effective decision making, builds trust and reduces confusion for those in and around the relationship.

Building alignment is not a decision-making process

  • Prior to declarations of alignment, a declaration/decision is made.
  • Once a decision is made, alignment is the process of “truing-up” with the decision itself.
  • We may choose to seek confirmation of alignment from those involved.  Leaders may choose to seek input about what level of alignment of those affected. 
  • Our promise to support a decision is what lies at the heart of building alignment;
  • If we have aligned on decisions previously in our relationship it may be easier for us to align in support of future ones.

Alignment is not linked with hierarchical position. Anyone can seek alignment from anyone

  • A couple, prior to getting engaged, might seek alignment about family aspirations.
  • Two co-workers can align on an idea and a unified way to proceed toward a goal; they may each have different views, neither ‘right or wrong’ or ‘mine vs yours.’

Alignment is not equal to agreement; it is not compliance or simply remaining quiet about what we think

  • We can be aligned with decisions even when we have a view that there was a better or a preferable alternative.
  • When aligned, we set aside the other options and take on the decision as our own.  Previously held views we had (or still have) about the decision are invisible to anyone else, and ideally to ourselves.
  • Alignment is not “telling our own truth” in relation to a decision or direction.  If we remain attached to our own view, we abandon any commitment to what the decision-maker may see or want.

This assessment tool is intended to be used in conjunction with the Vanry material on Building Alignment.  The questions rely on and are related to the distinctions made within the reading on Building Alignment.

The questions can be used to assess the group as a whole or can be used to assess each individual within the group as a means of identifying growth opportunities and uncovering blind spots, for the leader, the group, or the individuals.

Building alignment is a crucial aspect of fostering intentional relationships

Levels of alignment

There are at least four observable stages of Alignment people move through to reach the condition we usually assess as Fully Aligned. Most of the time, Executives/Leaders are satisfied by the achievement of the first level and delighted if they get evidence of the second level.

  1. They commit to support the decision (in word and deed) because they understand the decision in terms of it making sense to them.
  2. They can clearly see and articulate how their support of the decision (in word and deed) will drive changes in themselves, their people, their plans, priorities, resource deployment, etc.
  3. They demonstrate their commitment to the decision through their day-to-day actions, decisions, and interactions with others.
  4. They are able to interact with others in a manner that has those other people align themselves with (support in word and deed) the original decision.

Questions for assessing the degree of alignment within your team

Suggested Procedure:  For each question, please assign the number / description below that best describes your team’s behavior. Complete, and then total the numbers.

  1. Behavior not observable
  2. Behavior occasionally observable
  3. Behavior often observable
  4. Behavior almost always observable

With 24 questions in total – the minimum alignment score would be ‘24’ maximum possible is ‘96’

1. On Alignment Itself

Does each person on the team clearly understand the goal or direction they are being asked to align with?

    Standards/Tests:

  • Can each person describe the goal or direction in their own words as well as in the style and language in which you presented it?
  • Can each person articulate the request in pragmatic terms—how their (as well as their people’s) roles, priorities, and work practices will be changed by the adoption of the new direction?
  • Can each person articulate both the risks and the benefits (or value case) for this new goal or direction?

Does each person understand the underlying concept, standards and practices of alignment?
    
Standards/Tests:

  • Can each person articulate the distinctive characteristics of alignment?  The things that make it different from, say, agreement or buy-in?
  • Does each person speak in the language of personal accountability when making the commitment and when they promise to sustain that commitment over time?
  • Does each person speak to alignment as a means to unite the group and as a means to collaborative action? 

2. On Alignment with What, Exactly

Standards/Tests:

  • Is each person able to articulate to your satisfaction what they believe they’ve committed to supporting?
  • Do you assess each person to be focusing on the same thing as you are in your request for each person’s alignment?
     

3. On Sustaining Alignment

Standards/Tests:

  • Is each person competent at sustaining their alignment over time? 
    • Does each person treat the adopted “decision” as their own - in word and deed? (Have you or have the others observed this in them?)
    • Does each person return to their team and engage with that team until that team is able to align on the goal/direction declared?
    • Does each person redirect hallway gossip to the benefit of what is now the adopted goal/direction?
    • Does each person take up their concerns about continued alignment with you (as the person they committed to in the first place) rather than a third party?
       
  • Does each person declare missings or misalignment in 1-on-1, or appropriate group settings, for the true purpose of resolving questions, and not simply for the drama of “upsetting the apple cart”?
  • Has each person been consistently responsible in declaring the things about which they are out of alignment, and taken responsibility for making sure that their declaration is heard by you
  • Has each person asked for coaching in building his capacity to align, and in building their direct reports’ capacities to align? 
  • When a member of your team is engaged by others about their possible misalignment, does each person:
    • Quickly get over the initial discomfort?
    • Appreciate the other for what both communicate to be an act of commitment to the individual’s and the collective’s success?
    • Readily explore what it is that has the other person concerned?
    • Allow the other’s view to be as legitimate as their own view?
    • Authentically engage with the challenger to see what it is that appears inconsistent about his behavior in relation to his declared intent?
  • Does each person declare breakdowns in their alignment (as appropriate) and take action or seek support to become re-aligned?
  • Does each person declare when they cannot align themselves unless something about the current situation is changed? 
  • Does each person bring useful/real proposals for re-aligning themself? 
  • Does each person allow the group to move forward while they work to become re-aligned? (i.e. - listening, internally testing)

Total Score (out of a possible 96)
 

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