Alignment – or specifically, misalignment – is one of the biggest barriers to business performance today.  Strategies and initiatives fail because of it, yet many can’t find the tools to diagnose and address it.

It’s fascinating to discover that there usually is a core alignment issue at play within organizations that blocks effectiveness. What if you could spot that issue and start to unravel it?

We are starting to see an overall pattern about misalignment

We are seeing a pattern with our clients. It’s about a central alignment issue that when addressed, leaves other linked issues to fall away. The Mirror Mirror process identifies expensive alignment problems at play that are otherwise difficult to track down and deal with.

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Core alignment issues

Each core alignment issue is unique. Some modern organizations work in ambitiously challenging set-ups. For example, employees are based in different locations, and they work on short-term projects in cross-functional, self-managed teams. We found that with one client in this situation, while staff were proud and committed to doing great work, they felt overburdened and confused by a lack of strategic clarity.

CLIENT SITUATION: Staff from 27 nations are based in 8 countries within a matrix reporting structure. They work in project teams lasting up to a year with multi-disciplinary experts. When managed well, this kind of organizational set up represents the best of modern thinking about empowerment in action. Otherwise, it can make for a host of co-ordination and alignment issues. The HR Director was determined to keep steering it to the former.

We gathered perceptions on context and behaviours from each person and brought that data to a face-to-face offsite all-staff away day. Underneath all the insights we unearthed about shared pride and commitment, and, equally, about overwork and a lack of strategic clarity, there was a core alignment issue. It was simply about the definition of what ‘self-managment’ means in practice. The Management Team wanted to empower all teams to self-manage through devolved responsibility. People in those teams were embracing this responsibility, but largely felt unable to prioritise without guidance.

After a time, energy and motivation was overcome by friction, fatigue and disappointment. Without mutually understood priorities the workload and content had become too much. An ‘us and them’ situation took hold. These and other peripheral issues and complaints fogged the view.

Looking at the data gave the teams an opportunity to stand back and bring the issues and opportunities to the fore, safely and constructively. The teams talked to the CEO and the key misalignment around how to prioritise in a self-managed construct became visible. The action to schedule regular planning meetings so that priorities and expectations could be set up front, was agreed.  It was as if the whole room exhaled.

Once added, this clarification step would unravel the multiple complaints and concerns that had become so overwhelming, such as work overload, lack of strategic clarity, and the inability to review and plan properly.

Assuming people are aligned

It’s easy to assume that people in an organization are aligned and “doing what they are supposed to do”. But in today’s organizations it’s far more likely that they are seeing and doing things differently – indeed, they are “doing what they think they are supposed to do.” Though these gaps do not usually stem from bad intentions, they nonetheless combine, like an invisible virus, to degrade collective focus and performance, costing time, money and energy.

In the past, organizations have either looked at flawed strategies or poor managerial performance as the main causes of misalignment, and specific tools with which seek out the actual root causes of misalignment have not been available. Mirror Mirror has emerged as such a tool, and is based on research that shows that the way people interact in teams (behaviours), determines how much of a common understanding they have about the challenges they face together (shared cognition). It goes on to show that both behaviours and shared cognition control team effectiveness. In other words, our approach helps people in organizations step back and clear the fog, safely and constructively.

Being in conversations at cross-purposes

CLIENT SITUATION: We had another client with a team whose understanding of their central, shared goal between team members was imperceptibly different: “Our goal is to translate idea A to context B”, vs “Our goal is to see how idea A needs to change in context B” vs “Our goal is to assess how context A differs from context B for the purposes of doing X.” Do they need to keep idea A or change it? Are they implementing, assessing, or assessing and planning based on a shared version of Idea A or their own version of it?

No doubt the team would have come across these contradicting directions fairly soon, but for a full-time innovation team, what is the cost of 2 – 3 weeks’ misalignment? And what is the ROI of addressing it sooner rather than later, or of avoiding a misdiagnosis?

Because people hear what they want to hear – or hear what makes sense to them – it transpired that conversations between the team members were being held at cross purposes on an ongoing basis.  It seems ridiculous that such misunderstandings could happen – but they do. We were able to identify, discuss and dissolve this issue early on.  

 

Mirror Mirror is an innovative process that addresses team alignment issues in complex situations to improve performance. Discover more about how your people perceive things differently, why this is a key challenge in organizations today, and how a collective focus removes frustration and cost, while increasing engagement and effectiveness.