Where does alignment come from?      

We often hear about the need to“work together”. We are told to play nice. In sales we are asked to collaborate with our colleagues, our customers, and our partners, or sometimes all three. But how does this happen int he real world?

Where does this collaboration come from, and why do some teams collaborate so well and others so poorly? Why can we not just get along, or agree, and do we really have to?

Let us start with the why – why do we need to collaborate or align?  That is easy – we do not have to agree (not at all) but we certainly do need to align and work together for many reasons.  

Firstly, for our customers. If we hope to close the value gap which exists between what our customers expect and what they experience from us, we absolutely need to align. Without alignment the friction increases dramatically, and our internal friction moves to friction between us and our customer.

Next, for our organisations. When we are not aligned, we increase friction. And when friction increases, costs go up, the time needed to do things goes up and trust goes down. And it does not take a genius to work out that organisations then struggle to create great cultures, improve productivity and ultimately this results in decreased profitability.  Leaders try training, staff meetings, discussion groups, roadshows, or other interventions to fix this challenge, but often the problem is alignment of thinking.

And then, for ourselves. When you are in an environment that is confrontational with ongoing low levels of collaboration, it is exhausting. This often boils over into meetings, workgroups or on email threads and being in this state is not healthy for our sanity, especially if it continues over time. So, alignment is important for our customers, our organisations and ourselves. It leads to more production, more innovation, more collaboration, and in the end, more profit.  

To improve alignment, you need a shared purpose and synchronised thinking.

Purpose starts with the why question. Why are we doing something, why are we focused on this customer, why do we need to begin in this way, why are we spending time on this activity, why are we going in this direction? Understanding the why is vital to alignment, and without a true north, a clear destination or objective we struggle to agree.When purpose is clear even strong disagreements are easier to resolve.  

Syncing your thinking unlocks the secret to working together and using thinking frameworks and strong questions is arguably the fastest way to get people collaborating. We stop arguing the way of working and rather move quickly to filling in the blocks of a framework or gaps in our answers.

Alignment also depends on an ability to influence and to cultivate the habit of seeking clarification. 

The late Desmond Tutu said it so well: “Do not raise your voice, rather improve your argument”, and this is influence in a nutshell.

Improve your argument. Look at the words you use, the sequence you use them in, the styles you communicate with to help you diagnose how to increase your influence. And when you can influence (note: not manipulate) you can move groups of people to working together.

Sometimes we think we are clear, or that others are clear when we are not. Clarification is needed to ensure everyone is effectively on the same page and it is the skill needed to increase understanding.  This takes confidence, patience, and attention to detail, but when we are clear, we can align. When clarity is missing, collaboration is unlikely.

I was appointed as the Sales Leader of a large organisation where the sales teams struggled with collaboration and alignment. Issues and misunderstandings between colleagues, between us and customers or suppliers were a weekly occurrence. Morale was low, results were sporadic, and frustration was everywhere you looked. The Sales Management group were disconnected.  

Over18-months we built out a strong sales strategy, we started using frameworks for key areas of sales, and everyone was encouraged to challenge and question.Slowly we started to align around a common purpose, a clear direction, and a mantra of “even when we disagree, we commit”. The rest is history, as they say, but in summary employee and customer satisfaction went up, the speed of business improved, and sales targets were smashed.  

While you might not be running a large sales organisation, my example shows that a few areas of improvement are all that is needed to increase alignment and improve collaboration. Now, go play nice!

Hear more about this on our Global Connect on Tuesday, 15 March where we will unpack more ideas on how to collaborate, align and workfor the good of our customers. Follow this link to register.