Dispatch from the Summit - Is Your Team Aligned?

May 27, 2009 -- Sal Silvester

On May 23, 2009, Melissa Arnot became the first American Woman to summit Mount Everest for the second time. I met her father in a workshop last week, and he was beaming with pride. Melissa's team reached the summit in adverse conditions - conditions that seem to be threatening to end the climbing season on Everest earlier than usual this year.

As I talked with Melissa's father and read through all of the team's blog entries, I realized that the actions that Melissa and her team took while climbing Everest are the same actions that teams in the work place need to be successful. (1) The team was prepared, well trained, and aligned prior to the expedition. (2) On the mountain, the team was cohesive and able to make smart decisions quickly. (3) They moved fast and limited their time on the summit due to bad conditions. They didn't get bogged down getting comfortable. (4) They had perseverance to see them through difficult times.

Every team faces an "Everest" as it deals with a number of external factors that impact team member engagement, productivity, and effectiveness. Perhaps the "Everest" for your team is the pace of change, a merger or acquisition, or dealing with recent layoffs.

Through it all, a team has to be aligned in order to be successful. Alignment is the first principle in what I call People-First™ Teams.

  1. Strategic alignment. The team must be aligned with higher level strategic objectives, whether that is with the organization’s strategic goals, merger and acquisition goals, or related project goals. If there are not clear strategic objectives, your team will flail, endlessly wasting time, money, and other resources. For example, if your product road map is only 90 days long, your engineers will waste time responding to the customer who shouts the loudest, instead of focusing on the strategic direction of your product.
  1. Cultural alignment. Team members reward certain behaviors and criticize others. Ultimately this is organizational culture. The best way to create cultural alignment is by having a shared set of common values (notice the word shared). In most organizations, values are simply plaques on a wall with fluffy wording. Values have to be real and they have to be modeled by the leadership at every level. By creating team values that people actually buy into, you take alignment down to the behavioral level.
  1. Task alignment. Every person on a team wants and needs to know who they report to and their scope of responsibility. Task alignment happens when organizations take the performance management process seriously. Team members have clear goals at the beginning of a performance year and feedback is provided consistently throughout the performance year (at least once a month during one-on-one manager/team member meetings). Additionally, the team member understands his or her manager’s intent, so that he or she can make decisions and take action in the face of ambiguity.

This focus on alignment first creates clarity and accountability, and with that your team can summit its Mount Everest even in the most adverse conditions.
Check out the blog post from Melissa's team on Everest.

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