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. But while it sometimes does make strategic sense to set aside a set of goals for new priorities, often when that 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 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!
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