how to prevent alignment problems on your team

If you’re like a lot of teams, you’re spending a lot of time right now setting goals for next year. And if you’re like a lot of teams, chances are good that those goals might be knocked aside next year when other projects, priorities, and metrics push their way in. And while sometimes it truly does make strategic sense to set aside a set of goals for new priorities, often when it happens it’s because team members and their managers are simply out of alignment with each other.

Here’s a good test of whether alignment problems are cropping up on your team: Spend a few minutes jotting down what the two or three most important things are for each of your team members to accomplish next year, or even just in the next quarter. Then, without showing them your list, ask each team member what they would say are their two or three most important priorities for that same period. If your answers match up, great. But on a lot of teams, this will reveal core misalignment about what’s most important for each person to accomplish.

Then, go one step further and do the same exercise with your own boss. Are you aligned there as well?

What you want to end up with is alignment up and down, where everyone’s goals and vision for their role tightly lines up with the company’s goals and visions, where no significant chunks of time are being spent on activities that don’t align to broader business goals, and where each person understands how their work ties into larger objectives.

If you don’t find that, the good news is that you’ve now surfaced the problem and can figure out where the misalignment is happening:

  • Are people treating their formal goals as a bureaucratic exercise, rather than as a real tool that guides their work and time allocations every week?
  • Have you miscommunicated somewhere along the way about what’s most important to achieve, and what trade-offs are okay to make in service of those efforts (such as making it clear that it’s okay to put project X on hold if needed to achieve goal Y)?
  • Have you overloaded people with so many goals that they realistically can’t feel commitment to meeting any of them?
  • Have you signaled to people that they’ll won’t really be evaluated on how well they meet their goals, so it doesn’t feel like the most important thing for them to pay attention to?
  • Have you and your own boss neglected to get aligned on what should be coming out of your team?

Once you see misalignment, it’s much easier to dig into where it’s coming from and get people back on the same page, and to then continue checking in regularly to make sure the problems don’t crop back up. But it’s crucial to take that first step of checking whether it’s there or not to begin with. That’s the step too many managers skip, so vow not to let that be you!

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Bea W*

    Very timely! I was literally jotting down goal ideas before breaking for lunch. My manager is good at goal planning with the team so that our goals as submitted for the review process are aligned. Reading this I’m not so sure my boss and her boss are aligned or our team goals with our boss’ boss’ goals or those of the other groups that work closely with us. This gives me a lot to consider when making my list. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish for my team but they may not all align well with the Spout Designers’ goals or the goals of the Department of Chocolately Goodness. The teapot industry has a lot of interdependant parts.

    I had one manager who assigned everyone their goals, and of all the years I’ve been employed those were the ones where attaining my assigned goals was nearly impossible, mostly because they were unrealistic and some because of them being knocked aside for other priorities.

  2. RVA Cat*

    I can’t be the only nerd who saw this headline and thought it was about dealing with co-workers who are Chaotic Evil?

  3. Mockingjay*

    Misalignment describes my company environment very well. Our management is offsite in another state. They focus on corporate strategies and plans to enhance and build the company. Meanwhile, we who are onsite with the defense client agency focus on fulfilling the client’s expectations.

    We have to write two SMART career goals each January. Not surprisingly, my goals reflect development in the direction of the client agency. Manager and HR want to see goals reflecting their vision, but they don’t communicate what they are working toward. The draft goals are volleyed back and forth until we reach some semblance of consensus, resulting in a lame goal easily met (“I will complete an online course within 6 months.”).

    I think this year, I will email my offsite manager and ask for preliminary direction. “Fred, while I’m drafting these goals, are is there something specific you would like me to work towards?” Or, “Here’s what I propose for the coming year – does that line up with company expectations?” Hopefully I will get a clear response.

  4. MR*

    My final year working at a mega-defense contractor that also happens to build commercial airplanes, had me develop yearly goals based on whatever nonsense the director was spouting. They even had a handy power point to do this.

    The problem was, that they didn’t communicate that they wanted everyone’s goals to exactly match what was on that power point. A bunch of us nearly got ‘written up’ because we didn’t copy-and-paste those goals exactly – even though those goals had nothing to do with the actual job I was being paid to do.

    It was long past the point to leave the company at that point and only a few months later, I left and never looked back.

Comments are closed.