In your next strategy, policy, or project meeting – or any venue where you and others need to design and implement shared outcomes – listen to how you and your colleagues describe alignment:
You may hear metaphors such as ‘Let’s get on the same page.’ and ‘Are they onboard the train, or still stood on the platform?’
However it is described, we currently think of alignment as a binary state; 0 or 1, Yes/No, Are/Aren’t. We’re either aligned, or we’re not. It is either a good/right answer, or a bad/wrong answer.
As leaders and managers, we like alignment being a binary, it makes our complex work lives so much simpler. Either ‘Yes, we’re all aligned, we can move forward’, or ‘No, we’re not aligned, let’s solve it and get going again’.
Unfortunately, there are multiple negative side-effects from this Are/Aren’t simplicity, including:
Instead of 0 or 1, a more accurate way of looking at alignment around a group’s opinions is a 0 to 100 scale. There is only one position, at 100, where you are all fully aligned, and 99 positions where you are, to some degree, misaligned.
That can be quite disturbing to some personalities, initially. It doesn’t feel as good as 0 or 1, now it’s 99 times more likely they’ll have to consider their group misaligned. However, most leaders quickly grasp that they can either make decisions based on emotions, hope, and false comfort, or facts and accuracy.
Interestingly, for every group my colleagues and I have measured the last few years, their initial Degree of Alignment was between 44 and 83. i.e. No group was ever fully aligned, there were things they all felt the same about, and others where there were deep differences of opinion, mostly unknown.
(In another post we should probably look at how that message was delivered, and the range of reactions when dealing with leaders who their whole careers thought of alignment as Are/Aren’t, where Aren’t is bad. We can also discuss how close to 100 a group needs to be in order to be successful together.)
If this Degree of Alignment concept makes sense, why don’t you try posing the alignment question in future collaborations as ‘How like-minded are we?’
Providing your group the safety of partial alignment, that they don’t have to be like-minded on everything, that no group ever was, is another way to produce better goals and plans. (On the basis that is acceptable as a starting position, but that you will come to agreement on what action will or won’t be taken.)
And when you hear someone use the binary Is/Isn’t, Are/Aren’t model of the past, feel free to educate them on the Degree of Alignment.