Are We Aligned?

Have you ever spent an hour or more debating an idea, only to leave the meeting wondering if everyone is “on board?”

Or worse, have you ever left a meeting confident that everyone agrees with your plan, only to find out later that you have dissenters whose actions undermine your success?

Do you feel like TOO MUCH TIME IS WASTED IN MEETINGS?

I have a solution that’s so easy it’s kind of embarrassing. This technique has helped our clients–from project managers to C-Suite leaders—instantly assess alignment, then get out of the meeting and on with the work.

Here’s the Simple Process:

Before the meeting

Send the problem statement in advance, along with your recommended solution. Ideally, you’ve already involved others in coming up with a solution. If this is the first time people are hearing about the solution and they’ve done nothing to contribute to it, you’re less likely to have alignment.

This step helps you in at least two ways. First, it forces you to become clear about the problem you’re trying to solve. Second, it gives people time to reflect and form opinions. Introverted communicators will particularly appreciate this time.

Ask them to generate their concerns and questions. Tell them you will begin the meeting by taking a poll using the following alignment scale:

•5 = I like it and fully support it with no concerns. I’m ready to talk implementation.

•4 = I like it enough to support it.  I’m ready to talk implementation.

•3 = I have some questions and reservations that I’d like to discuss before I can support it.

•2 = I don’t like it but I will support it and won’t get in the way of implementation.

•1 = I don’t support it and can’t implement it in good conscience.

Many leaders might be tempted to simply ask, “Can you align on this?” or “Are you aligned?” These questions are easy to dodge and leave little room for nuance. How do I respond if I’m 60% aligned? Are you really open to what I have to say or in a hurry to get to yes?  Leaders might get a chorus of corporate nods and a false sense of alignment.

At the Meeting

Step 1: Check in

Go around the room and have everyone spend less than one minute sharing how they are right now and what threatens to distract them. Go first and be sure to share something that humanizes you. For example, you might share that you are slightly distracted by a personal conversation that didn’t go well this morning. For more on why this step is so important and how to do it, see our post How to Begin a Great Meeting.

Once you’ve checked in, people will be more present, focused, and empathetic toward one another.

Step 2: Read the Problem Statement and Proposed Solution (the one you sent the day before)

Step 3: Vote

Ask each person to hold up the number of fingers that represents their alignment. Count “1-2-3 Vote” and hold the number up for all to see.

If you have only 5s and 4s DON’T discuss or debate the merits of the idea. If you’re ready, you can begin talking about implementation strategy. Or, be a hero and end the meeting early.

If you have any 3s, 2s, or 1s,* begin a conversation. Start with the 3s and allow them to air their concerns. Ask “What reservations do you have?” Then ask the 2s and 1s what they don’t like about it. Ask,  “What, if anything would mitigate their concerns?” Don’t debate. Do  listen, thank them, and write their concerns on a flip chart. Ask if you’ve captured their concern accurately on the flip chart. Ask the 4s and 5s what they like most about the plan. They may do some of your influencing for you.

If you can accept the mitigating concerns and adopt those into the plan, say so, then re-assess everyone by taking another vote.

If you’re worried that you won’t get honest answers, it’s possible that you haven’t done enough to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable disagreeing with you. If people don’t trust you, they’re unlikely to tell you they aren’t aligned. (Check out the posts below about creating safe environments where teams do their best work).

One way to mitigate this is to have anonymous sharing. In a small team, you can have people write their number on a piece of paper and put it in a bucket. In a larger group, you can use voting machines. You might consider bringing in an outside facilitator to lead a conversation. You can also break the large group into smaller discussion groups where people share pros and cons in the small group and a spokesperson for the group aggregates and communicates the concerns and alternative proposals to the larger group.

How Alignment is Forged

Great leaders create alignment among teams with different strengths, agendas, and priorities. Without team alignment, any strategy—no matter how well crafted—is doomed to fail.

*If someone votes a “1”…either congratulations are in order to you for creating such a safe environment, or someone is looking to get off the boat you’re captaining.

Related Post On Creating Safe Environments Where Teams Do Their Best Work

Your Turn!

What works and doesn’t work for you when it comes to creating and measuring alignment?

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