This is especially true for teams that are multi-functional or virtual. The fact of its members being separated by professional differences and physical distance makes managing it twice as difficult. This can be complicated further, if a project has multiple components that are unrelated in their requirements for resources, technical specifications and success criteria. As team or project complexity increases, the need for proper alignment also increases.
When organizations talk about projects, a number of things immediately come to mind: complexity, uncertainty, and small margins for error due to limited resources and the potential impact of project failure on the organization’s strategic vision. It is for these reasons that projects and project teams draw a lot of attention from top level managements; they have the potential to help or hinder the company’s success significantly.
For these reasons, organizations and their executives increasingly place emphasis on the alignment of a project team as a prerequisite for project success. It is increasingly being recognized that efforts to ensure timely and efficient completion of any project should begin well before the project team is assembled. If there is clarity about the needs of a project and what will be demanded of team members, processes for populating the project team become easier.
This is especially true for teams that are multifunctional or virtual. The fact of its members being separated by professional differences and physical distance makes managing it twice as difficult. This can be complicated further, if a project has multiple components that are unrelated in their requirements for resources, technical specifications and success criteria. As team or project complexity increases, the need for proper alignment also increases.
What is alignment?
In relation to organizations, alignment is when its identity and culture are clearly understood and company objectives are fully. This means that top management communicates organizational vision, mission, goals and strategy with clarity. Members off the organization don’t merely comprehend what the company stands for on an intellectual level, they are able to identify with it emotionally. The overall impact of this is that the company perfectly matches how it operates to what it wants to achieve.
When organizations have alignment, there is agreement, harmony, and synergy. There are fewer contradictions between what the organization says it is, what it wants to do and how it goes about doing it. As a result, it reduces conflicts. Alignment also enables quicker, more efficient decision-making because clear terms of reference already exist and reduce the risk of misinterpretation. The overall effect is that team members feel more empowered and become more productive.
In more practical terms, members of a well-aligned organization understand the organization and their place in it. On a higher level, they are tuned into its long-term goals, as well as its short-term objectives. But on a more specific and personal level, they are aware of their roles and how it matters in meeting this overall vision. The day to day interactions of staff with one another is guided by this knowledge. And the separate actions of disparate teams and units merge seamlessly to create a smoothly functioning organization.
Critical Areas of Project Team Alignment
For project teams, alignment is necessary in specific areas to ensure efficient working. Failure to align on any of these levels will increase friction between team members and hamper communications between organizational goals and the team’s efforts. The critical areas for project team alignment are:
Overall Organizational Vision and Culture: Every organization or group has its own defined goals and objectives, as well as the preferred methods for reaching them. This means that the team operates within a context imposed by the organization and must align its own strategies to match the organization’s culture. A team’s internal philosophy should acknowledge and support the grander goals of the company. This is why team alignment must begin with internalizing organizational objectives.
Project Goals and Objectives: The organization determines the purpose of the project. This means:
– Defining the scope by specifying in measurable terms what it is supposed to do.
– Identifying what resources have been released for the project, when they will be available, and how.
– Determining how success will be determined. What are the processes for determining if an objective has been met?
Being aligned on the goals of a project means getting clarification on the needs and expectations the project is meant to fulfill. It also means resolving all areas where there is confusion or contradiction.
Work Processes: Project teams must be aligned on how the project work is to be done. These include work within the team and work with people outside the team. There has to be clear understanding of its overall structures, systems and processes. Team members must understand:
– What the team is supposed to do
– Each person’s role in relation to others and the team’s purpose
– Personal differences and preferences that could affect how the team functions
– The lines of reporting within the group, as well as modes and frequency of communication
– The constraints within which individual team members work – including time differences and technological limitations – which could prove challenging for other team members
– Clarity in definition of the exact tasks included within each member’s assignments
– What deadlines and timelines mean specifically in hours, days, weeks, etc.
– The defined processes for managing disputes and disagreements
Achieving Alignment
Given the amount of resources organizations typically invest in projects and how much project success depends on the project team, team alignment efforts can be just as important as project success. Efforts invested in achieving alignment ensure that resources invested are not wasted. But how does a team come into alignment?
Alignment does not happen by itself. It is the result of an intentional, structured and intelligent process. And it requires enough understanding to maintain a delicate balance between business goals and people’s needs. Leaders aiming at creating alignment should be able to detect the unspoken meanings in what people say and do. They have to transmit organizational goals, needs and positions in ways that leave room for individual inputs and personal creativity.
It is highly recommended that organizations engage external help for this process due to the probable impact of team failure on an organization’s current and future successes. A seasoned Team Coach will not only help a team work more effectively, they will also secure the resources already invested or about to be invested in the project.
Moreover, it is important that organizational leaders are involved in the process and work with their team members to create a culture that fosters future alignment. Team coaching can also enhance team leaders’ interpersonal flexibility, equip them with trust-building tools and techniques, and help them recognize when a team is merely in agreement, in order to move it toward alignment.
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