News flash! I’ve made it through the ecstasy and agony of another season of Tee Ball. If you’ve ever experienced the very first effort that 4, 5, and 6-year-olds expend at learning to play baseball, you know what I mean. You’ve witnessed the times when outfielders are playing in the dirt, oblivious to the fact that the ball was just hit their way. Of players running the bases backward. Of the entire team converging on the ball hit to the infield and then fighting over the ball as the base runner runs past them. It’s a game where everyone hits (or tries to), everyone runs the bases (most in the correct sequence), and everyone scores, but no score is kept.
At my best, I find Tee Ball endearing and funny (kids this age are cute). In my more surly moments, I want to put my head in my hands and weep at the inability to get these young players working together.
I find Tee-Ball both amusing and frustrating. And it serves just the purpose it needs to – to acclimate young players to softball and baseball by allowing them to make frequent and ample mistakes as they learn. It’s OK to miss the ball or fail to make an out when you are five years old and learning.
Yet what transpires on the Tee-Ball field is repeated daily in many work environments. Team members are clueless as to the position they are playing. No one has explained the rules of the game to them. How to score is a mystery, and there is no clue as to what the score is. In fact, some employees may not even be sure what game is being played. People are running into each other (figuratively). They are doing the wrong things. At the wrong time. In the wrong order.
Think that I’m exaggerating? Gallop finds that only 15% know their company’s most important goals – “either there are no goals or they have way too many goals”
Another 2012 study found that only 14% understood their company’s strategy and direction. While the data is dated, I would be hard-pressed to argue that performance on this measure has increased – given the turbulence the pandemic has caused and the mass and rapid movement to virtual and hybrid work.
What happens when you don’t know what game you are playing? What position that you are playing? What happens when the game shifts? When there is no one coaching? When there is no one keeping score? When there is not a sense of teamwork?
As leaders, a vital part of your role is to help people “see” the bigger picture. To understand what is essential and what is not. To help each person know how their work fits together, both within your team and in the wider environment.
Yet we fail far too often. We ask people to “just do their job.” We are busy doing “everything” and consequently achieving nothing of note. We await direction from “on high” only to be disappointed when, if it does arrive, is too little or too late. We succumb to the “out of sight/out of mind” mindset with our virtual workers.
If you asked your team these questions, would they have an answer? Even more importantly, would they have the SAME answer?
- How has the current business environment shifted our strategy or approach?
- What are our top two priorities in the next quarter?
- Who is impacted by our work internally? What is important to them?
- What does “good” look like for the work we do?
- How does our work impact our paying customers or clients?
- How does our work contribute to the bottom line?
- How does my work fit with the others on my team?
- What are your expectations for my work?
- What am I doing well? Where do I have opportunities for improvement?
- How is my work measured?
The work of team alignment is not just one action, but a series of conversations, actions, and role-modeling – day in and day out. Here are some examples:
- Share the information that you receive about company direction frequently.
- Set up job shadowing time within your team and with those your work touches.
- Talk about your expectations. Create simple statements that provide guidance. For example: “On this team, we celebrate wins.” Or “On this team, we bring up issues sooner rather than later.”
- Coach freely and frequently. Create a feedback-rich environment.
- Communicate the top goals for both the short term and long term.
- Help each person set and accomplish individual goals.
- Check-in frequently with your virtual or remote employees.
- Invite a senior leader to a team meeting to share a broader perspective on strategy and approach.
- Provide context for assignments (why this is important and who it impacts).
Individually, none are too complicated or time-consuming. Collectively, these actions to create alignment can turn your team into a well-coached, well-managed, high-performing team.
If you want to improve your skills in aligning team effort, join me for Fostering Engagement. You can learn more here.