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Aligning Teams with Organizational Goals


Teams don't have to be aligned with the goals of the organization. Teams can work on what they believe to be the right things. They can work diligently on creating the results they think matter. They can be completely committed to success from their perspective.

A non-aligned team could enjoy each other and their work. They could accomplish much, and all of that could be completely counter to what the organization needs. Can you see this happening?

It isn't just a fantasy, I've seen it, and I'll bet you have too. Maybe you've even experienced it.

Teams can't succeed in a vacuum, but far too often that is what organizations expect them to do, and it can lead to the scenarios I've just described.

Sometimes this vacuum is created by omission - leaders just aren't thinking about it or are "too busy" to set context for team success. Other times the reason is optimism - leaders believe in their team members and their skills. After all they hired bright people - and bright people will figure it all out.

And sometimes the vacuum is caused by a far more pervasive problem - no clear organizational goals, objectives or strategies exist to align to. Leaders must create clear strategies and they must create a clear line of sight throughout the organization, so people and teams can connect their work to the important strategies of the organization.

It takes effort to get a team in alignment with the organization's goals and strategies. And it is impossible when those goals and strategies don't exist.

Yes, strategies and goals may exist. And yes, they may have been communicated. This is a good start, but isn't enough. Teams can't gain the clear direction they need without conversation. It is the responsibility of leadership to provide that opportunity for conversation. This conversation provides the understanding which provides the team the context they need to clarify their goals and make the decisions that come along during their work.

If you want to build stronger alignment between the team's work and the organization's goals, consider the following:

Start at the beginning. Make sure the organization's goals and strategies are set. If not, there isn't much chance of the team being highly successful. At a minimum the team needs to understand, from the start, why their work product matters in the bigger picture and how they can make a positive impact.

Generate conversation. Don't deliver the goals in the email when you ask people to join the team. Don't put it in the packet of materials people get when being hired. Make the time to have conversation. The alignment we are searching for needs to be deep - almost visceral. Help individuals and the team develop meaning and purpose. Help them understand how they can create work that matters.

Get the team's help. Get their input. Remember that you are trying to create alignment and agreement. When people have the chance to shape the goals of the team and when they have the opportunity to have input into those decisions they will have greater agreement with the goals.

Provide a connection. Teams need someone in leadership "above" them that can provide support and resources, someone who can answer questions and keep them on track. Some people call this a team sponsor. The sponsor shouldn't be on the team; rather they provide leadership, support and connection. The sponsor keeps the team from feeling like they are all alone.

Make them accountable. If the alignment is clear and the goals set, then the team needs to be held accountable for results. In organizations where accountability has been lax in the past, this may seem like a jolt, but it won't be long before this accountability not only drives results but improves team dynamics too.

It is easy to see how these steps will help a team succeed - it is easier to do that when they know what success is. But more than helping them deliver a desired result, the sense of clarity, meaning and direction that these steps create help teams get over many other hurdles that teams face in terms of commitment and "getting along" with each other.

Why?

Because people want to belong to something that matters, they want to be a part of making a difference. They want things to believe in. When we give them those things, collectively they will work through many personal issues and challenges and they also become more committed to the end product.

As leaders we can help teams find these things, and at the same time improve our likelihood of getting the results we want. All it takes is effort, communication and commitment to help teams get aligned with the most important goals of the organization.

Kevin Eikenberry 2005. Kevin is Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com), a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. To receive your free special report on "Unleashing Your Potential" go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/uypw/index.asp or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.


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