As Navy SEALs, we operated in an environment that was constantly changing. The situations we faced were never the same, and no matter what the next objective was, we needed to face it with five things:
- A clear and meaningful purpose
- Clear goals
- A practical strategy for achieving those goals
- Daily (even hourly) plans and priorities that kept us on track toward executing our strategy
- Metrics that defined success
To top it off, we didn’t work alone. We needed to align our efforts and objectives with support teams both internal and external to our command.
The point is, operating at an elite level isn’t solely based on a few stellar performers, or even a single high-performing team, but on the conditions that align those people and teams to work together.
What I’ve learned since working with companies to help their teams function better is that the “battlefield” they face isn’t much different than ours. They need to clarify priorities. They need a clear strategy. And they need to align not just one team, but many teams, if they want to operate at an elite level.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a SEAL Team, an executive team or a product team. Your goals are more likely to be achieved when there is a clear and meaningful purpose behind what you’re doing, simple goals to attain, a practical strategy for achieving those goals, daily priorities that keep you on track and metrics that measure progress and provide feedback along the way.
The challenge that I see in companies today regarding organizational alignment most often stems from internal team breakdowns. The nature of alignment demands cross-functionality — communication up, down and across the organization and between teams — and communication isn’t exactly a strong suit for many companies (at least from what I’ve seen). Here’s an example.
I once consulted for the finance division of a tech company on how they might operate at an elite level, as we did in special operations. Their problem was communication — they didn’t have any. Roles and responsibilities were so unclear that employees serving in audit, for instance, had no idea whom to seek out for a question about tax despite working in the same division. They had five meetings when only one was necessary. They wasted time, money and mind-share trying to figure out who was doing the work rather than working on what they should be doing, and their business was suffering as a result –- all because they didn’t take the time (and effort) to align.
It’s a simple fix, but certainly not easy. Here’s a simple flow for thinking about organizational alignment:
Align The Employee WIth The Role
There’s nothing worse than having the right person in the wrong role. In my experience, the reason companies waste talent is because they don’t have the right conversations to begin with. If you want a better answer, ask a better question. Ask your people what motivates them, why they’re doing what they’re doing, where they see themselves in three years and what might happen if they don’t get there. Set the conditions for candor now to prevent the loss of talent later.
Align Employee Roles Within The Team
One of the performance requirements for groups (and teams, for that matter) is clear roles and responsibilities. It’s hard to hold somebody accountable if you don’t know what they do or what they’re responsible for, and without accountability there can be no shared accountability (a defining characteristic of a team). Aligning team roles prevents turf wars or the “that’s not my job” retort that stifles output.
Align The Team With Other Teams
It doesn’t matter how great your sales teams perform if your marketing teams fail to get the message out, and vice versa. Seismic, an enterprise-level software technology provider whose mission is to help marketing and sales teams work better together, says that only 16% of companies have sales and marketing teams who collaborate. What impedes alignment between teams, they say, are disparate systems, lack of transparency and visibility on goals and skewed expectations — all of which fall under the umbrella of poor communication.
Research also shows that companies with aligned marketing and sales teams experience an average of 20% growth in annual revenue. Another report shared by Cerius Executives shows that aligned companies are 38% better at closing proposals and churn 36% fewer customers each year.
Alignment doesn’t come easily. It takes time, courage and candor to have the conversations that need to be had yet oftentimes avoided because it’s easier not to. Start by getting clear on what success looks like for each team, how it will be measured and the process by which you’ll communicate. The very process of communication itself is the stepping-stone toward organizational alignment.