How to Achieve Organizational Alignment on Your Team

Written by:
Sandra Chesnutt

Organizational Alignment: Start with “Y”

Organizational alignment is not easy. Not only do you have to get clarity on your target, you also need to get clarity on where you are now. Can an archer aim at a target without knowing where he or she is in relation to the bullseye?

Regardless of your company size, Organizational Alignment will take thought, attention, and communication. Achieving organizational alignment is easier if you orient your team properly at the outset and have truth mindset.

Know Your Mission Objective: What is your X?

In Flawless Execution, Afterburner’s continuous improvement framework for accelerating team performance, every Mission includes a Mission Objective. The Mission Objective must be

• Clear
• Measurable
• Achievable
• Aligned with your Organizational High-Definition Destination (HDD)

We never start a mission without a very clear objective. Having a clear mission objective orients your team toward the future and inspires the team with the promise of achievement and acceleration. Teams that work hard together toward a shared, understood goal perform better, and they tend to form stronger bonds and achieve more when they believe their goal is challenging.

Know Your Starting Point: What is your Y?

Simon Sinek has us all asking ourselves, “What is my Why?” When it comes to organizational alignment, we think you should also start with “Y.” If X is your target objective, Y stands for where you truly are now. It is critical to know your Y: Can you really align around the level of effort or resources required if you don’t have alignment around how far off the target is?

This is what Jim Collins was getting at when he insisted, “You must confront the most brutal facts about your reality.” If you are in a large organization, that can mean poking sacred cows, recognizing that parts of the organization are working against each other, or admitting that a team with all the required resources did not execute properly on a strategy. In a start-up, it can mean facing the reality that after years of effort there may not be a product-market fit. It can be painful.

If confronting the brutal facts and understanding your real starting point is critical to alignment, do you and your team and your organization have the courage to truly align? At a minimum, it will be uncomfortable. Your ‘Y’ is equally as important as your ‘Target X.’ Knowing your Y will help your team feel further tied to the outcome of the mission and can help your team gain inspiration based on their progress.

As you begin your mission, take the time to record your starting point with respect to the Mission Objectives. If your Mission Objective is to decrease your customer cost of acquisition, make sure the team tracks down the current cost of acquisition. Some teams actually make this their first Course of Action (COA).

Know Your Progress: Staying Oriented as you Go from Here to There

As teams go through their missions they move closer and closer from Y, their starting point, to X, their target objective. Mid-mission, the team needs to stay oriented and understand as a team how close they are getting to achieving their objective. At Afterburner, as we work with teams to accelerate their ability to knock out their targets, we use a tool we call the X-Gap. The X-Gap is a short weekly event to re-orient the team around the mission and identify the gap between where they are now and their destination, along with any threats to achieving the mission on time and on target. It is a face-paced, highly-structured, uber-organized update.

X-Gap Principle #1: Highly Focused

The leader convenes the meeting on time and proceeds task-by-task through the plan by asking each task owner to report their progress on the specific Courses of Action (COAs). The X-Gap leader’s purpose is to identify and isolate tasks that are at risk of not being completed on time or those that are already past due and review them further. Preparation is the key to a successful X-Gap. In addition to communication with the leader in advance of the X-Gap, good preparation also means that, for anyone unable to attend the X-Gap, someone else can stand in for them and provide a status of the task and discuss what is needed to move forward.

X-Gap Principle #2: Resolution

Those responsible should succinctly explain the issue to the team and state what they believe they need in order to accomplish the task – to close the gap. Once execution gaps are exposed, the leader should make decisions and possibly reallocate resources in order to close those gaps. As a rule of thumb, any task that requires more than 2 minutes to explain and discuss should be referred to a separate discussion to take place after the X-Gap. X-Gap leaders must remain on their guard against unproductive, rambling discussions.

X-Gap Principle #3. Action

Third, X-Gap should identify specific actions that must take place unless all tasks are completed or on task as planned. Leaders should take care to either clearly indicate the actions that must take place as a result of the task review process, or indicate how and when decisions or other resolutions will take place and who is responsible for them. If additional resources are required, who will acquire them and by when? If further deliberation is required to achieve a decision, when will this take place and who will be a part of the discussion? Never allow an X-Gap to conclude without clarity around next actions.

Track Your Result: What is Your Final X?

We end every Mission with a S.T.E.A.L.T.H. Debrief, a nameless, rankless review of the Mission. The H in STEALTH Debrief stands for High Note, a Debrief always ends on a high note. This is a perfect time for the leader to again orient the team and reinforce organizational alignment: “We started at ‘Y’ and we made huge progress getting to our final result.”