Guiding your team to work in tandem is essential to your organization’s success, regardless of your business type or size. While you hire employees individually, you still need everyone to work in harmony to reach daily goals and your long-range business objectives.
But we all know it’s a complex (and herculean) task to build thriving teams from individuals, all of whom have unique personalities, professional aspirations, and challenges.
I have five simple ideas that will help you create aligned teams that are brimming with confidence and commitment—and ensure your organization runs like a well-oiled machine.
- Ask Your Executive Team About Its Vision for Your Organization.
The first thing you need to focus on aligning is your executive team. If your top leaders don’t share the same vision for your organization, the rest of your team will veer off course. Worse, your employees may leave. Why would workers stay with a company whose leaders each want to achieve different things?
Request that your organization’s CEO or a third party ask each executive team member about his or her vision for the company. If you get a unified answer, that’s great. You can move forward.
But if you get varying answers, your team is out of alignment, and there’s no point in proceeding until everyone’s on the same page. Start by putting realignment processes into place: hold conversations to clarify the executive team’s ideas and ask for a commitment in moving forward with one voice.
- Ask Which Department or Function Is Key to Your Organization’s Success.
Another way to discover whether everyone is aligned is by how your team responds to the importance of different departments. Which functions do your people believe are most critical to your organization’s success? Ideally, there will be a consensus, but if there isn’t, find out why. Sit down and openly talk with team members about why they feel the way they do. Then, let everyone know the truth: there is no “most important” department or function.
I’ve found that people do their best when they understand that their job function and input are needed and valuable. Of course, there are times when one team or department takes precedence, but that’s not the usual case. The truth is that this ebbs and flows based on where you are in your business lifecycle. For instance, let’s say you have a critical production issue that requires specialized repairs. This situation will raise the level of importance of those employees temporarily.
Keep in mind that this entire strategy only works when you have a “culture of feedback,” which gives team members the confidence to be honest rather than saying what they believe you want to hear.
- Learn How Your Managers Lead.
Another critical factor in alignment is how your managers lead employees. Suppose one team member doesn’t like a manager or is afraid to talk about work problems. Here, leaders must help managers and team members become comfortable with the uncomfortable to bring about alignment. Here are a few ways to start:
a) Ask managers and employees to engage in constructive feedback.
b) Encourage managers to coach team members and publicly praise their successes.
c) Spur employees to pursue career development and promotions.
d) Promote a healthy work-life balance when possible. While work-life balance is valuable, I’d like to add a note on this point. It’s not always possible for a fledgling business or startup facing specific pressures, such as rapid growth, to consistently offer work-life balance. In the early days of your business, you’ll need everyone to pitch in, even if it isn’t ideal or convenient for employees.
In such cases, talk with team members to ensure they’re the right fit. Have this conversation before hiring people: let them know that you strive to offer work-life balance, but you can’t guarantee it for the foreseeable future.
- Be Clear About Expectations and Goals.
Once you align your executive team, get a pulse on department needs, and learn how your managers work with their respective teams, it’s time to focus on helping everyone succeed. The best way to do this is to let your people know your expectations, goals, and how everyone can best meet them.
While this sometimes creates stress, expectations and goals are helpful:
a) When they give people direction and a daily purpose.
b) When the goals fit team members’ responsibilities and are reasonably achievable (creating a positive experience).
c) When they serve as a reflection of your staff’s potential.
d) When they challenge team members without inciting fear of negative consequences.
e) When they break up work into achievable steps, allowing you to celebrate milestones with your people.
- Foster Effective Communication.
The final component of your alignment strategy is effective communication. With powerful communication skills, your team members will avoid the hair-pulling frustrations that stem from misunderstandings or a lack of communication. Your managers will understand how to express expectations clearly, and their team members will know they’re welcome to speak up and ask questions if needed.
Similarly, you’ll want your employees—not just your managers—to understand both broad and nuanced approaches to communicating. Communication is essential in peer-to-peer, peer-to-manager, and manager-to-peer interactions, so it’s well worth investing in training and coaching. In fact, one study revealed that personalized coaching often comes with a 788% return on investment!
Here are some training and coaching strategies to help all parties in your organization thrive:
a) Focus on open-mindedness to create a nonjudgmental environment.
b) Convey the significance of employees’ work so people are secure enough to express ideas or ask questions.
c) Tune into body language and other subtleties, such as tone and inflection, to get a better idea of what a manager, employee, or peer is saying.
d) Promote open discussions, whether in conference meetings or on Zoom calls, regarding projects and broader organizational topics.
Tailor Your Message
Once your executive team and management are fully aligned, only then can you communicate your direction to the rest of the organization and develop momentum toward your objectives.
Remember that you’ll need to explain your vision and how you plan to achieve it in different ways for different employees. Blue-collar warehouse workers and white-collar office workers will each need to feel respected and included in your organization’s vision. And when they do, your organization will run like a well-oiled machine.
Written by Carol Schultz.
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