Team alignment is often mistaken for unanimous agreements. However, according to Harvard Business Review, teams often suffer from the “illusion of unanimity” as a result of agreeing to the loudest or most senior voice in the room. Research suggests that creating an environment of controlled conflict can bring about more productive discussions, resulting in true alignment within the team.
By acknowledging differences in opinion and deliberating over them in a controlled and constructive manner, each team member goes beyond merely agreeing to a decision to take ownership of the entire process from decision making to execution.
We know that it’s easier said than done. So, we’ve designed 20 functional activities you can conduct with your team on Pigeonhole Live to promote alignment right from the start:
As a leader, instead of introducing your plans for the team right away, start by giving your colleagues the opportunity to voice their thoughts first. The following exercises will not only help surface any misalignments that exist within your team (that may otherwise be silenced), they will also get them involved in the decision-making process right off the bat.
1. Word Cloud
For strategic decisions like investments and cost-cutting measures, you can set up a Word Cloud with a question like: “How much should we spend on new research this year?” or “How much budget should we allocate for marketing the new launch?” “What’s our biggest focus this year?” Then, ask your colleagues to submit their answers in just one word.
Word clouds perform as a powerful tool to showcase the level of misalignments that exists within the team and provide a natural segue to kick start discussions.
2. Open-ended Poll
For longer submissions, you can conduct the same exercise in an Open-ended Poll. This gives more room for elaboration on each suggestion and gives the team a good base to start discussions on. Your team members can also vote on suggestions they agree with.
3. Biggest problems and concerns
It’s common for people to silence any underlying concerns and worries about a project if they feel alone in sharing them. These concerns have the potential to later manifest as issues and roadblocks as the project progresses.
As a team, it’s important to also align on potential issues that might come up in the future and discuss how to address them.
Start an Open-ended poll and ask your team to submit any concerns of worries they have about the new strategy or project and vote on submissions they agree with. Discuss whether and how the problems can be overcome. Make sure not to overlook or belittle anyone’s concern.
At the end of the exercise you will have a summary of the biggest problems everyone foresees and a workaround for each of it.
4. Start Stop Continue
If it’s a team you work with continuously, conducting a Start, Stop, Continue retrospective exercise is a great way to reflect on past efforts and align your team on newer efforts.
Start a Q&A session and set up the following tags: Start, Stop and Continue. Turn on anonymity and get your team to input their suggestions and tag them accordingly. Your teammates can also vote on suggestions they agree with.
You can discuss the responses with your team and ask them to clarify or elaborate on some of the suggestions either in person or by commenting on it. Votes can help you get an idea on how aligned your team is on each suggestion.
Aligning on execution
Once the team is aware of everyone’s ideals and concerns, it’s time to work on aligning on the execution.
The next set of exercises focus on ensuring that everyone in the team are on the same page moving forward and have a continuous channel for open and transparent conversations as things evolve along the lifecycle of the project.
5. Purpose and Principle
Every team should have a clear purpose, even if the team is assembled for just one project. Helping your team understand and align on their purpose helps to guide and motivate them along as you move forward with the project.
This can be easily done by conducting an Open-ended poll and having everyone post what they believe should be the core purpose of the team and the principles they should work by.
At the end of the exercise you can combine similar suggestions and develop a shared document that everyone on the team has access to.
6. Goal alignment
While teams have a project or team-related goals, individual team members have personal career goals that they intend to fulfil with every project.
When your teammates’ personal goals align with your team goals, which then align with your company’s overarching goals, the project becomes productive on every level.
Get your team to submit their personal career goals in an Open-ended poll. Project it next to a slide of your team goals you have developed from the earlier exercise. Use the comment function to comment on each entry on how they can contribute to team goals while achieving their personal goals.
Each team member leaves the meeting with a clearer idea on how they can achieve fulfil their career goals while contributing to the team, resulting in more ownership to every part of the process.
7. The customer persona
Whether you’re the sales, product or management team you need to understand your customers. Who they are? What are their main defining characteristics?
Ensuring that your team is aligned on who your target customer is helps to align on who they are creating for and selling to.
This exercise can be done before you start a new project, during your all-hands meetings or even when onboarding new hires:
- Set up a Word Cloud.
- Ask your team to describe the company’s customer persona in one word. If you serve few personas set up one word clouds for each persona.
- Then discuss the characteristics and update your main customer persona documents as you move along.
Bonus tip: Each word cloud also serves as a visual summary of your customer persona that you can print and hand out to your team.
8. The customer journey
While isolated data points such as demographic information and preferences help you get the gist of your customer persona, you’ll need to have a unified idea on what their journey entails to properly understand your customer,.
As a step two to the customer persona characteristics exercise, brainstorm on how your target customer would behave using this framing exercise called Job Story.
- Set up an open-ended poll for each persona.
- Put out as many scenarios as possible using the following template:
When <situation or context>, they want to <take action motivated by context>, so that <outcome results>.
Discuss each entry with your team and work on aligning your strategies with your customer’s behaviour.
9. The brand persona
No matter who is interacting with your brand, you want to provide them with a seamless and consistent brand experience. To do so, you need to align your processes and client service to your brand persona.
This can be a fun exercise to conduct during team bonding sessions or company offsites:
- Set up multiple Word Clouds, each with scenarios based on real-life examples or potential encounters.
- Get your team to respond to them how the brand mascot would, in no more than four words.
10. The client situation simulation
Every individual has a different way of approaching situations of conflict. However, you want to make sure that your customer-facing professionals are aligned on the core company values and tone, and exercise them when attending to your customers.
When training customer facing professionals, you can conduct simulations on how to approach a customer problem as a team alignment activity.
Simply set up one Open-ended Poll for each scenario and ask your team to submit their approaches and the company values it corresponds with. Everyone can then vote on the best approaches.
11. Competitor-partner exercise
When you are working on a new strategy it’s important to review historical beliefs about companies that operate in close proximity to your business and align your team on new ways to approach a strategy.
Start a Q&A session with three tags: “partners”, “competitors” and “both”.
Ask your team to brainstorm and submit a list of companies that are related to your field and tag them accordingly and vote on the options submitted. Encourage them to challenge past conventions and be innovative about their categorisation.
Elaborate on unique and new propositions and work on concrete ideas to implement them.
12. Define a shared vocabulary
A lot of alignment comes from simply speaking the same language.
Communication often gets derailed when everyone has a different definition of concepts or metrics to measure and understand successes and failures. So it’s crucial that you get everyone speaking the right and the same language from the start.
Develop a set of shared vocabulary and concepts, and their corresponding definitions at the start of your project. Then, set up a Quiz or Assessment on Pigeonhole Live and get your team to take it. You can review the definitions at the end of the assessment to ensure everyone is aligned on them.
Aligning Roles and Responsibilities
Understanding what each team member’s roles and responsibilities are helps to further the course of alignment during execution of strategies.
13. Cross-team alignment
An aligned company is one where all the different departments and teams work in synergy, functioning as one seamless structure. To ensure this, you need to conduct regular cross-team alignment exercises.
- Ask the different teams to present their job scopes and daily responsibilities to the rest of the company.
- Then ask the teams to create a job profile on their duties, pains and gains of another team in the company.
- Start a Q&A session and get the teams to submit the profiles they create and tag the team they created for.
- Observe how much each team understands the rest and how they are able to communicate the job functions.
This exercise not only aligns the different departments in the company, but it also helps to identify opportunities for better collaboration.
14. Value Proposition Exercise I
Get your team members to map out their value proposition to the team. This should entail why and how they will be creating value to the team and the actionables they will be taking on.
- Set up a Q&A session with tags for each job function or team member (depending on the size of your team)
- Get your team to post their value proposition and tag themselves accordingly.
You can then discuss the various actionables to see if everyone is aligned on their tasks and understand their value proposition to the team.
15. Value Proposition Exercise II
As a follow up to the previous exercise, you can set up a copy of the Q&A session with the same tags and get your team to update the tasks that they complete and tag themselves accordingly. Teammates can also submit and tag others on tasks that they’ve helped out with.
At the end of the project, you will have a summary of each team member’s contributions to the project and a comparison to the responsibilities that they set out to do.
Test the alignment out
One of the best ways to determine if everyone is on the same page before you embark on the project is to conduct a short assessment on all the different areas you have aligned on.
If you want to test your team on alignment but take the pressure off, try a Quiz instead. With a real-time Leaderboard your teammates will be pitting against each other to grab the top spot!
Feedback and open communication
Sustainable alignment comes from having a continuous line of open communication so your team can check back at any point if they face an issue or give you feedback on the processes.
18. Anonymous Q&A
Set up a Q&A session to last the entire length of your project so that your team can raise any doubts or questions that come along the way. Everyone in the team can comment on the question to contribute their thoughts and help to resolve it as they move along with the project.
19. Feedback survey
As a leader, conducting regular feedback surveys also help you understand whether every team member feels their suggestions were heard and taken into account. It also helps you understand if the new processes that you have collectively implemented are supporting more productive work.
The last step is simple: celebrate your success!
20. Acknowledge contributions to team alignment efforts
According to Inc.com, creating a culture that is centred on alignment requires lots of small “nudges”.
So, don’t just stop at implementing steps that surface misalignments and work on aligning strategy execution. When a project is successfully executed due to an alignment in decisions and execution, celebrate it, and celebrate it out loud!
Take time to nominate people who made the effort to voice their concern, challenge a decision or communicate constructively to promote alignment. Take note of difficult and emotional moments during the project where the team chose to put alignment at the centre and successfully progressed together and highlight those moments. Celebrating alignment will show how seriously to take it and help to slowly weave it into the company's culture.
For this last activity, you can:
- Create a Q&A session.
- Create tags based on the awards you wish to hand out or recognise team members for.
- Get your team to nominate and vote.
- Celebrate the moments and the people responsible for it!