Last month, I started a series of posts about collaboration: Collaborate Like a Pro. The first post was just an overview. In this post, I’ll go into detail about the first key element of collaboration: alignment.
Alignment of purpose is critical to successful collaboration. Alignment begins in and is nurtured by conversations. Discussing information and sharing interpretations of information leads to understanding. If the group you’re working with truly grasps the need for change, the intent and benefits behind the change, and the importance of collaboration, they will direct their efforts towards implementing that change. The ability to share, debate, and reach agreement in a group takes advantage of whole-brain thinking. Whole-brain thinking maximizes the best aspects of different thinking styles to come up with complete, well-rounded solutions that aren’t possible when trying to solve a problem on your own.
Alignment is answering the question “why?” This can be tough and requires open minds. We’ve all had situations where we’ve missed or ignored a critical piece of information and a project has failed. We’ve experienced friction between people because they held different interpretations of the same information. For the “why” to be clear we must:
- Share information
- Illustrate benefits
- Acknowledge and value all feelings, concerns, and ideas
- Vigorously debate different points of view
- Acknowledge risks and plan to mitigate those risks
- Achieve consensus
- Get the purpose down on paper
Once we know “why,” we can commit to the outcome of our efforts. We can overcome the obstacles and constraints we’ll face. Knowing why helps us, and those we work with, to focus on what we’re trying to achieve and how we’ll achieve it, rather than why we can’t do it. Knowing why gives our actions value and context; we know how we’re making a difference.
Getting the Conversation Started
Alignment of purpose becomes our compass as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of discovery and growth. It helps us chose between the things that move us closer to our goal and the things that move us farther away. Help everyone on your team picture the future; take the time to describe what success will look like. Welcome questions, encourage debate, and be willing to say “I don’t know.” Open communication throughout the project provides the foundation for everything that follows. Consider the following to get the conversation started with your team:
- Why is there need for change—what business conditions led us to consider a new approach?
- What are the benefits of making a change?
- How does that change impact both individuals and the business?
- What do you imagine the new reality to look like?
- What information can you share?
- What are the goals of the business and why is it important to meet those goals?
- What feedback does the group have?
- What questions does the group have?
- What potential problems does the group anticipate?
- How does the group feel about the changes?
By having this conversation and being as transparent as possible, those involved will know their input has been heard and valued. They also develop a deeper, more complete understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. Once you’ve had this conversation, the team can fully engage in the creative thinking, brainstorming, risk taking, and work necessary to bring that vision into existence.
We often don’t have control of what needs to change. Business needs will dictate what must be achieved. The beauty of effective collaboration is that it provides an opportunity for everyone to participate in how change takes place. A team of informed, committed collaborators will successfully effect change.
Alignment is the first of three keys to collaborating like a pro. Future posts will describe the next two keys to successful collaboration: authority and accountability.
So, what can you do to align your team for greater collaboration?