Anyone who’s worked on a team knows what it feels like to be part of a team that isn’t aligned, and this can have a real impact on your ability to make strategic improvements. Does this sound familiar?
Your organization has invested in and developed strategy after strategy, but none of them are sticking; execution is a real challenge.
Teams aren’t working well together and the silos between teams are cementing into territories that are heavily guarded – resource and information sharing is forced, rather than the norm.
Leaders keep getting the feedback from their teams that they need more headcount to do the work.
Team members aren’t bringing their best – no breakthrough creative ideas, less innovative problem solving, fewer examples of working “above and beyond.”
It seems like team members don’t enjoy coming to work – there are complaints that the day-to-day work is frustrating, a total grind, or unmotivating.
Teams are experiencing high turnover from people that seemed at least moderately satisfied at work.
I imagine you’re nodding your head and also feeling a growing apprehension about the big plans you have for the coming year.
For many of you, a new strategy, campaign, or initiative is on the horizon and success is the only acceptable outcome. You’ve likely tried implementing change in the past with less-than-ideal results. The issue is likely a mix of individual motivations, team culture, tools, and resource gaps that internal leaders are having difficulty parsing out and addressing.
But there is a better way: when team members actually trust their team, know how to point out flaws and learn from each other to co-create the strategy, inevitably objections and silos dissolve, enthusiasm skyrockets, and entrepreneurial thinking abounds.
Team Alignment is a Predictor of Success
This just in: Leading business researchers have discovered a revolutionary new approach that makes any business more profitable. It reduces costs and increases productivity and profitability. It increases lead quality, pipeline velocity, leads to happier customers, and more repeat business. Companies using this approach also have more satisfied employees, willing to work harder (often for less money!), and higher overall employee retention. It has no hard costs and you can do it internally, with resources you already have. Are you interested?
Any business leader would be negligent not to at least open that link and try to figure out if it was too good to be true. When they come to realize the research was conducted by Google, Harvard Business School and dozens of reputable sources consistently since the mid-1990’s you’d expect that they’d be adding this new approach to the very top of their to-do lists and retraining managers to incorporate the findings.
Team alignment, and it’s underlying foundation of psychological safety, is not something that should be relegated to HR or written off as “soft skills.” In almost two decades of writing and overseeing strategic marketing transformations, I can say with confidence that team alignment is the number one indicator of whether a new initiative will succeed or fail.
Unfortunately it’s also a topic many leaders would rather gloss over when they get ready for a big strategic change – they want action plans, not “warm and fuzzy” team alignment plans. I’ve had pushback more than once from clients who would prefer we “stay in our lane” and just focus on research, metrics, and action plans.
Research Shows Aligned Teams Are Critical
When you ask most business leaders about team alignment and psychological safety, they often point to the HR department, mumble something about culture, and shrug their shoulders. Which is too bad, because the research is clear:
Companies that successfully align sales and marketing retain 36% more customers, generate 32% higher revenue and achieve 38% higher win rates. (Source: Ascend Ebook)
A study of 1,000 professionals across a range of industries found teams with cross-functional collaboration and an open work style are 60% more likely to achieve more, faster. Plus, they’re 80% more likely to report high emotional well-being. (Source: Ascend2)
More than half (54%) of employees say they’re willing to stay at a company longer than what’s in their best interest due to a strong sense of community. (Source: Ascend2)
Google’s “Project Aristotle,” explored over 250 team-level variables, found that psychological safety is the most critical factor and a prerequisite to enabling successful teams. (Google, 2015). Team psychological safety is a shared belief that people feel safe about the interpersonal risks that arise concerning their behaviors in a team context (Edmondson, 2018).
Despite the importance of psychological safety, only 47% of employees across the world described their workplaces as psychologically safe (Ipsos, 2012).
What’s Team Alignment and Psychological Safety?
Team alignment can feel hard to pin down if you’re new to the topic but here’s a simple definition: team alignment is the team’s ability to work together and learn from each other.
As researchers have tried to study and measure this trait, they have settled on the term “psychological safety” and defined it as having four key domains or areas that can be assessed:
Attitude to risk & failure: does the team see failure as a necessary byproduct of growth and innovation? Or is it punished and avoided at all costs?
Open conversation: do team members feel comfortable expressing concerns and reservations as they work together? Can they learn from one another and hear constructive feedback in the spirit it is intended?
Willingness to help: Does the team have a spirit of being “in this together” and do they easily pick up slack for the benefit of the whole? Does this shake out fairly or do some team members take advantage of others?
Inclusivity: Does the team work hard to ensure all perspectives are represented, even from those who are not always first to speak?
Roadmap for Successful Change
Let me give you the shortcut formula to planning your success. Every single business transformation comes down to two simple questions:
What exactly do we need to do differently?
Who is going to do it?
The first item is your strategy, and companies are always paying for more and better strategies. Unfortunately, all too often they completely ignore the second item, assuming that once the WHAT and HOW are clear, the WHO will fall into place.
A plan can be strategically sound, backed by data, and make perfect sense on paper but that doesn’t mean the team will get on board. Considerations like who gets credit, who will benefit from less work or more resources, job security and perception of rank, and how success is measured all inherently affect the buy-in for any new plan.
STEP 1: Strategic Alignment – What exactly do we need to do differently?
Define what you’re trying to achieve, clearly, concretely, with metrics.
Link the change to a larger organizational vision
Specifically define the change: current state, target state, the gap and what is NOT changing.
Identify past lessons learned. What has been tried before and how did it go?
It’s worth noting that most teams are pretty good at step one, but they stop there.
STEP 2: Stakeholder Analysis & Team Alignment – Who is going to do it?
Ensure the team agrees on the problem and it’s urgency
Confirm the team believes change is possible in this setting.
Ask whether the team has the time, energy, and willingness to change. (Change fatigue is real!)
Uncover whether each individual believes they can personally succeed with this change
Team Alignment In The Wild
For the last couple of years Convince & Convert has worked with a large national association ($1.7B in revenue, 38 million members) on a wide variety of marketing initiatives. One change in particular was in process when we started working together, and the outcome was anything but certain. A new project management system was intended to be a centralized place for updates and tracking, intended to increase collaboration, reduce meetings, and allow workloads to be distributed more evenly across the team.
Unfortunately, team adoption of the new tool was low and falling farther – the grumbling was increasing over time. Leaders in charge of its success were struggling to come up with a way forward. Confidential interviews with individual team members uncovered some real and specific challenges, both with the actual tool and how the change was communicated. Owners of the tool went back to developers to overhaul the tool and improve functionality, and are in the middle of a much more successful rollout with an enthusiastic reception from previously reluctant team members.
Setting Up New Norms
In another example, a nationally-recognized, top-50 university we worked with was struggling after some changes to the marketing team organizational chart and reporting structure. Two teams that had previously been independent were combined, but the merger was not a smooth one.
Assessments of the team showed that each smaller team felt psychologically safe to communicate openly. However, when the teams combined to collaborate, that index score went way down. The norms of each smaller team were different. They needed to be revisited to openly agree what type of feedback was preferred, how to run meetings, and a number of other patterns that develop almost without noticing but need to be identified, agreed upon and communicated to new team members. Once new norms were established, the teams were able to work together fluidly and begin finding the synergy that was intended with the original combining of teams.
“What’s in it for me?”
It’s important to dig in here and get curious to understand team strengths, weaknesses, passions, and drains. This often means closed-door confidential sessions where team members have a safe space to talk about their ambitions and concerns, what skills they do or don’t possess and where they might like to grow. Effort is not the same for everyone; work to understand perceived effort with perspective taking, empathy, mentoring, coaching.
Smart leaders understand that all change in responsibilities comes with a power shift across a team. When changes are on the horizon, the first question everyone wants answered is, “how will this impact me and my job?”
Who on the team will have to learn new skills?
Whose job might be in jeopardy after the change?
What new resources will various team members get? How do I get my share of the pie?
Will the extra responsibilities be rewarded fairly?
If the new work sounds fun, can I get rid of some old tasks I hate?
…and dozens more
Answering these questions in advance, equitably, and with your individual skills and goals in mind is the core job of a great manager. Allowing the team to negotiate among themselves, speaking honestly about their strengths and weaknesses, skills they have or want to develop, and how they’d like to see the change unfold is the gold standard.
How Does Your Team Rank?
These areas are so critical to navigating change, and more and more of our clients are interested in getting better, not just at the “what should we do to innovate?” question but also understanding the people and motivations that will make or break the strategic plans they’ve laid out. A seven-question assessment that takes under 3 minutes can help teams understand their ability to bring new ideas and challenge each other, essential qualities of a successful organizational change process.
Benchmarking the team’s score and growth over time can provide tangible, actionable goals for managers and teams to work towards. The Convince & Convert team has strategists trained to conduct these assessments and facilitate improved team alignment, and we’d love to help your team on the next stage of your journey.