What is the best way to improve our effectiveness, creativity, and performance? Align our commitments. Yet we often stop thinking about alignment after we’ve sorted out our expectations and roles. We miss a critical step in the alignment framework: aligning our commitments.
I find that most people, when they think about alignment, automatically think in terms of getting a team to agree on a particular direction or strategy. The following ideas, taken together, challenge this conventional thinking.
Commitments can never be shared
Each of us has our own set of commitments. I can never “share” a commitment with you: you can never “share” a commitment with me. Some of our commitments will conflict. Some will align.
Agreement with each other’s commitments is not what’s on the table. Finding out where our individual commitments align is.
This doesn’t happen spontaneously. It requires conversation. Like twins who share a common background and context, teams function best when members act as individuals, thinking for themselves, expressing their individual commitments, and sharing their different points of view.
Where our commitments align, it’s easier to coordinate our actions as a team. Knowing where they don’t, we can anticipate where we won’t be able to respond effectively when things don’t go according to plan. And this is where we need to talk.
“Team” is a concept
There is no specific “thing” you can point to and say “this is a team”. “Team” doesn’t exist in space or time. A team is a network of one-on-one relationships.
The greatest dysfunction of any team is that the members are not having one-on-one conversations about their relationships.
Every other dysfunction emanates from there. Our one-on-one relationships are how we relate to one another from our respective roles. That’s why I’m suspicious whenever someone tells me “everything’s fine—our team always gets along.” In my experience, that’s a sign of missing conversations or opportunities. Someone, somewhere is holding back. Place your bets.
Leadership happens in conversations
Leadership happens in conversations, which are a function of our one-on-one relationships. Relationships are the playing field and conversations are the acts of leadership which happen on that field.
It is up to leaders to initiate the conversations that shape how we work together and what we accomplish together.
My coaching often focuses on enhancing a leader’s self-awareness and sharing distinctions that can be universally applied in conversations to un-complicate relationships. Establishing the following four agreements in each of our relationships creates a solid foundation for any conversation for alignment.
- We agree that we care about and are committed to each other’s success.
- We agree to not judge one another at an interpersonal level. We will give each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our intentions (no hidden agendas) and what we’re capable of.
- We agree to not assess any conversation as being difficult before we have it. We will not withhold our disagreements from each other: we will not share our disagreements with people outside our relationship.
- We agree to listen and learn from one another so we can remain aligned as we move forward.
With these agreements in place, we can begin to look together to see what’s missing through the lens of aligning our roles, expectations, and commitments.
The Value You Add as a Leader
When a senior executive makes time to talk with even just one of their leadership team members about role clarity, commitments, and expectations (including what decisions are whose to make and where they can expect to have input into decisions), they begin a shift towards alignment throughout their organization. As a leader establishes alignment in their key relationships—one by one—and becomes effective at clearing up misunderstandings and misperceptions, they model for their senior leadership team what they can do with each other.
We don’t have to have our words completely sorted out before we start talking together about what’s not working and where we’re not aligned—no matter what the topic. By having the courage to routinely initiate conversations to align on our roles, expectations, and commitments, we take essential steps towards improving our individual and organizational performance.
Next month we’ll begin an exploration into using the dynamics of chaos and conflict to deliver greater results and release trapped capacity.