Alignment: How Recalibrating Roles Works

We’ve talked about organizational relationships and the need to maintain alignment of expectations. I’d like to add that expectations are intertwined with roles. If we are to achieve alignment, we need to calibrate our understanding of our respective roles in the broadest sense.

Aligning on Roles

We may know what our titles and jobs are. We may even be 80 to 90% accurate in knowing what our respective roles are. However, situations and circumstances are constantly changing.

As things shift, we need to maintain role clarity. We need to recalibrate regularly (as in, have a conversation) on how our roles change as our projects and situations change. What’s at stake are the expectations we have of each other relative to our roles.

We tend to relate to our roles as static, when in fact they are constantly changing to respond to our circumstances.

In coaching teams of senior executives, I’ve discovered that this ongoing process of calibrating and recalibrating often gets overlooked in the rush to deliver results. And yet, taking care of this doesn’t require a full pit stop. It only requires a quick check-in. A thirty-second conversation to clarify our respective roles can be initiated at any time by either party. Think fluid and organic, rather than scheduled and prepared.

The responsibility to maintain alignment belongs to both parties.

As change puts tension on our roles and expectations, we can use these questions to initiate conversations.

  • “Who has responsibility for what in this work?”

  • “Do we know what our responsibilities are in this and what we’re counting on each other for?”

  • “Are we clear on our broadest objectives and priorities?”

  • “What are we assuming (perhaps inaccurately) about each other’s roles?”

  • “What are we doing that is outside the scope of what we expected (of each other)?”

  • “Are we unclear about anything in our working relationship?”

  • “Can we see where we’ve run off the rails with each other?”

I’ve found that some leaders resist discussing roles at all. Sometimes this resistance reveals that we have been listening to each other out of habit (perhaps based on our titles) assuming we know what we’re hearing. Sometimes it reveals our discomfort with the roles we are now playing. Sometimes it reveals that our roles have changed and we aren’t even aware of it (think scope creep and scope change).

Seeing our resistance is a good thing: it gives us something to work with.

Our resistance creates an opening for a conversation to improve our effectiveness while respecting everyone involved. It’s much easier to confidently create a clear way forward when we look together at:

  • How we are relating to each other,

  • What we’re each doing in the moment, and

  • What we’re trying to accomplish.

Clarity about our roles and transparency about our expectations of each other helps us align our commitments. And having aligned commitments is the best thing we can do to co-create and effectively perform together. After all, what we are committed to dictates the actions we take. Conversely, the actions we take indicate what we’re committed to.

More on alignment of commitments next month.