What Team Alignment Really Means—and What You Might Be Missing

June 1, 2020 by Meghan McDonald

As we continue through the COVID-19 crisis, team alignment might not look like a top priority. Here’s our theory, though: it will be critical for rebuilding healthy business.

In theory, team alignment is straightforward and goes something like this: the CEO or another C-suite member lays out goals and a vision for reaching them, the goals are written down, managers say “Sure!” and help workers understand what they’re working toward. Alignment!

In reality, team alignment goes much deeper than verbal agreement or the absence of dissent—and there’s a lot at stake for both an organization’s health and a CEO’s tenure when members of one department or across departments are out of alignment.

A working explanation of “team alignment”

At Survature, we look at team alignment through the two lenses of data science and behavioral science. Here’s how we see it:

  • Alignment means individual, departmental, and organizational goals are vitally connected, as evidenced by data (from a survey, for instance) showing that C-suite strategy and teams’ day-to-day tactics actively support each other.
  • Improving alignment starts with how organizational leaders come to understand their teams’ attitudes and beliefs related to the organization’s goals, work processes, resource distribution, and their individual roles.
  • Based on that understanding, leaders can cultivate a shared perspective of the problems their organization faces and the opportunities to overcome it.

Business is a team sport

In football, in basketball, the whole team is sweating after a hard game. If they didn’t work together, they probably wouldn’t win, no matter how hard each person played. Even an MVP can’t carry the team to victory alone.

Have you ever felt that your team (or one you advise) is working really hard, but their level of effort hasn’t led to a winning record? The cause might be that individuals have a limited perspective of their roles—for a variety of reasons, they may have missed how they fit into the bigger picture of company goals. They may be relying on their own will power or luck to generate customer loyalty or sustain business growth. And that means you’re missing out on organizational wins.

The losses that result from poor team alignment

Like the coaches on a football team, the C-suite owns the vision and strategy. But without alignment (or alternatively, a lot of micromanagement), what the C-suite envisions will not be executed.

In fact, functional departments might be so siloed they unintentionally work against each other and prevent the year’s numbers from being met. Managers may not realize (or care) that their guidance doesn’t ladder up to C-suite goals, which results in everyone doing more work with fewer results. Individuals might fall short of what they were hired to be—true knowledge workers who not only fulfill their daily tasks, but also improve processes, spur innovation, and share resources to advance the entire organization.

The wins that result from good team alignment

If team alignment isn’t top of mind, you could be missing out on opportunities. Tackling team alignment is a proactive approach when your organization needs to …

  • Generate new sources of revenue: New revenue streams come from both product and business innovation. A well-aligned team means innovative thinking is channeling the C-suite’s vision for the company, not spinning wheels in a thousand directions your business can’t support.
  • Grow sales in an evolving market: Through the process of gauging alignment, the C-suite can see whether the sales team’s tactics advance organizational goals or merely individual ones. It also reveals whether the sales strategy jibes with what the sales team is actually seeing in the market.
  • Increase efficiency across the organization: Perceived power structures within the organization can stand in the way of efficiency. For instance, let’s say one department has ready access to information everyone else needs. Other departments, tired of having to ask, wait, and feel ignored, each decide to create their own workaround. All departments involved end up losing sight of the common goal and creating more barriers to cost- and time-efficient solutions. Building good team alignment helps pinpoint barriers between departments, remove them, and find new ways to save time and effort.

How to gauge team alignment

The right internal survey is critical to gauging your team’s alignment, in general or related to specific topics. We know many organizational leaders hesitate to survey their own people—they don’t think they’ll get actionable information. So, in our next post, we’ll share five questions that can help you capture the information you need to clearly see how well your team aligns. 

Meghan McDonald is a Knoxville-based freelance writer with a bent for science and a love for art. Meghan received her MA in creative writing from the University of Tennessee in 2012 and has been writing for organizations that serve people through science and/or art ever since. She’s pleased to be writing with Survature, a company that brings together data science and design. Read more of her work at meghanmcdonaldwriter.com.