GUEST POST from David Burkus
So much of the struggle of working on teams comes down to one key task: getting a team aligned. Aligned teams lead to better engagement, performance, and retention. Getting and keeping a team aligned is a key task for leaders at all levels. But recognizing the importance of alignment is a lot easier than actually getting everyone on the same page.
Team alignment means everyone contributes toward a shared goal, understands their assigned tasks, and sees how their work fits into the team’s work. But teams are composed of people and people bring their own individual goals, desired tasks, and sense of contribution that may or may not fit well with others.
In this article, we will explore how to get a team aligned across five steps of creating, and then keeping alignment.
Step 1: Start from Purpose
The first step in how to get a team aligned is starting from purpose. Before setting a plan of action, goals, and key performance indicators, teams need to focus on the reason they’re working on that project. This begins with the organizational mission, as it sets the tone for the team’s purpose and helps everyone understand the bigger picture. Once the mission is defined, it can be translated into a team-wide purpose—a clearly defined statement of why that team’s work is important and how it fits into the organizational mission.
Starting from purpose is key to keeping the team motivated and providing them with task significance that helps them stay focused when the day-to-day tasks get tedious or strenuous. But starting from purpose also helps teams deal with change. Changes are going to happen to the team—internal and external changes are going to force the team to pivot. But if everyone on the team has a clear picture of the team-wide purpose, then they can pivot quickly and still trust they’re making progress on their purpose.
Step 2: Establish Priorities
The second step in how to get a team aligned is establishing priorities. Once the end goal is defined, the team can turn its attention to getting there. Any project carries with it dozens of tasks and subtasks that have to be arranged in a specific order—and that bring with them a certain level of importance. That’s what establishing priorities is all about. Once the tasks are identified, they should be ranked in order of importance. This ranking should be communicated to the team, so everyone understands what tasks are most important and what they should be working on.
Just like starting from purpose, establishing priorities helps keep the team focused and updated on changes. When those inevitable changes happen, they may or may not affect the ranking of priorities. So, in the face of changes, leaders need to be clear on what tasks stay critical, what new tasks are important, and what tasks were lowered. In this way, keeping priorities clear is vital to keeping a team aligned.
Step 3: Set Team Goals
The third step in how to get a team aligned is setting team goals. With purpose in focus and priorities set, it’s time to map out how the team will act on their plan. Some teams use complex metrics like KPIs and OKRs. But if you don’t know what either acronym stands for that’s okay. Fundamentally, setting team goals involves working backwards from completion and creating milestones that will be used to monitor progress, provide feedback, and create moments of celebration.
Whatever system is used, leaders need to ensure people know what the most important goals are, as well as how they’re being measured. And leaders need to ensure people know what is expected of them and by when, and how it fits into the series of cascading goals. This makes holding teammates accountable for performance easier—but it also makes it easier for everyone to celebrate their own wins and the wins of their teammates.
Step 4: Hold Regular Huddles
The fourth step in how to get a team aligned is holding regular huddles. Huddles are the quick meetings team members have on a regular basis to “work out loud” and keep everyone updated on progress and potential roadblocks. It helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that everyone is aware of what is happening. How often these huddles happen depends on the team and the project.
Regardless of frequency, one easy format for leaders to adopt in their huddles centers around three questions: what did I just complete?, what am I focused on next?, and what is blocking my progress? When each person on the team provides an answer to each question, then everyone on the team gets a status update, gets to know how their work fits into the work of others, and gets to ask for and offer help across the team.
Step 5: Check-in Often
The final step in how to get a team aligned is checking in often—and this happens on the individual level from leaders to individual teammates. Check-ins help leaders keep tabs on progress, give coaching, and align individual goals with team and organizational goals. And Check-Ins keep team members motivated and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
In addition to team-wide huddles, regular one-on-one meetings should be held with team members to discuss progress, challenges, and individual goals. Leaders should encourage transparency and honesty during these meetings. This helps them understand what is happening and how they can help. This is also a great time to have more forward-looking conversations about the individual’s career goals and ambitions and how the current projects can help serve as development opportunities for them. The information gathered during Check-In meetings can be used to get team members more meaningful work and keep them motivated.
Team alignment is crucial for the success of any team. By starting from purpose, establishing priorities, setting team goals, holding regular huddles, and checking in often at the individual level, leaders can keep their team aligned and performing at their best. An aligned team is a team that helps everyone do their best work ever.
Image credit: Pixabay
Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on June 19, 2023
Sign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.