Small variations in teams can lead to huge performance differences. I saw this recently at an F1 race. Racer times varied significantly, and cars spread out after a few laps. When a flag went up requiring racers to slow, the spread would shrink again and cars would closely follow each other. However, they would spread out again after the race resumed. In the end, over a minute and a half separated the first and 12th place finisher.
What is interesting to me is that these teams are highly controlled. They have to meet strict engine, tire, fuel, and design requirements, reducing much of the variability that might drive performance. These teams must collaborate and align well on their strategy, use of engines and tires, pit stop times, and more to drive team performance. A small mishap in the pit can lead to failure in the race. These mishaps also can occur in large organisations, especially when the outcomes depend upon strong team collaboration.
Today's organisations require collaboration at all levels. Divisions with competing priorities must collaborate to maximise sales. Team members must collaborate to improve a process or produce an outcome. Conflict, lack of trust, and poor coordination on these teams can lead to delays in a product launch, sub-optimal decisions, or open hostility. If leaders do not manage this well, these issues can derail their career.
When confronted with collaboration issues, many leaders try to understand and resolve them by focusing on individual motivation, values, or personality. By focusing on this, they believe that they can help the individuals cooperate better and improve performance. However, interpersonal conflict between individuals accounts for less than one-third of all conflict in organisations and is often the result of organisational problems such as competing commitments or overlapping responsibilities. Focusing on style, motivation, and values is not likely to lead to results.
In our Growth Leader research, we have found that growth leaders choose instead to focus their energy on Alignment. They put processes in place and build capabilities to ensure that individuals and teams are working together to accomplish goals. By focusing on alignment, they improve collaboration, reduce conflict, and improve trust.
I was speaking to a leader the other day who did just this. He was new in his operations role and had to better align global Engineering and Sales. Engineering was planning on discontinuing support for a current product to focus resources on designing its replacement. This would have left Sales without product updates and support, making it difficult to sell this product line. Unfortunately, Sales and Engineering weren't talking to each other, meaning that decisions were being made without informed input. To resolve this, the leader started meeting with Engineering and Sales leaders to understand their views and issues. He built trust with the leaders and helped them understand each other. He then brought the groups together to align around product strategy and an investment strategy to ensure revenue was maximised.
This leader had to align the teams on their purpose, their expectations, and the processes by which they would make decisions. By doing this, collaboration and trust between the groups started to improve.
As an organisation, we work with teams to improve both vertical and horizontal alignment. We look at four key areas of team alignment:
- Purpose. Teams must have a shared vision, goals, and metrics in place
- People. People capabilities, culture, and norms must be aligned to Purpose
- Perspectives of Stakeholders. Understanding and aligning with stakeholders is critical, as is their support
- Processes. Team communication, decision making, and processes must be aligned with Stakeholder needs
We measure this through our 4P Team Alignment survey and have administered it to hundreds of teams globally. When scores in all areas are high, the team is considered fully aligned. Teams use the tool to close gaps in their alignment.
Teams with better alignment outperform unaligned teams. Our research and academic research shows that aligned teams:
- Have better employee engagement scores
- Have higher commitment to the team and lower employee turnover
- Have better relationships amongst individuals on the team
- Experience better team output (quality, quantity, speed, innovation, etc.)
When any of the 4Ps is out of alignment, team performance suffers. Consider the following to improve alignment:
- Use alignment measurement as a catalyst for change
- Use a variety of tools and methods to improve alignment. There are many causes of misalignment and each requires different solutions
- Create the capability for teams to monitor and improve alignment; alignment is an on-going process and can quickly be destroyed
- Avoid relying on fun team building exercises or insight tools to fix alignment
Most importantly, remember that small variations can lead to large performance differences. If your team is misaligned, or has coordination issues or conflict, team performance will suffer. By maximising alignment, you will drive higher team performance and outdistance your competition.