Total Alignment Blog

Sustaining the State of Alignment through Reinvented Natural Teams

By Riaz & Linda Khadem

In an earlier article, “The state of Alignment in the Organization,” we have described the processes that establish the state of alignment in an organization. They include creating a shared and meaningful mission, vision, and values for the organization; building the infrastructure for Alignment through the Alignment Map; defining individual scorecards for all jobholders; and providing timely and relevant information through the software, TOPS. Brief mention was made of the twin processes of Team Review and Vertical Review for sustaining the state of alignment. Here, we give more detail about Team Review which is a new way to work within natural teams. The Team Review has a great impact on alignment in the organization.

Let us assume that the infrastructure for alignment as described in our article is in place. This means that every jobholder from the CEO down to the frontline manager has a scorecard that defines the added value of the job in measurable terms. The scorecard includes KPIs he influences directly in his position at the lowest appropriate level of the organization or strategic projects he influences directly at the highest appropriate level of the organization. It also includes KPIs and strategic projects he influences cross-functionally as a peer or vertically as a manager or dotted-line manager. It means that three goal levels, minimum, satisfactory, and outstanding, have been set for each entry in the scorecard. Timely and accurate push-information on the performance of the scorecard is provided periodically to the jobholder and his or her managers transparently and automatically through the software TOPS.

What we are covering in this article is how the alignment that is established through the construction of the infrastructure described above can be sustained over time leading to cultural transformation and extraordinary results.

Vital Units of Execution

Most organizations, whether hierarchical or matrix, have people working on specific jobs with managers overseeing their work. The organization might have a few or many levels of management depending on its size and industry. At each level jobholders and their boss form a natural team which is a fundamental unit of execution. Each unit could include two to a dozen people. In large organizations there are hundreds or thousands of such units.

Traditionally in these meetings time is spent on giving assignments for the week or the month as well as reviewing the results of the previous period. The focus is on the performance of the direct reports over the previous period. We see a need for a shift in the way these units operate, with a change of focus on the scorecard of the boss, which is really the scorecard of the team.

This change of focus is a fundamental paradigm shift. The shift is to focus upwards instead of downwards. We call the re-invented conversations in these units, Team Review. Team Review is a cyclical meeting of each manager with his or her direct reports plus other key individuals. It is a meeting that cascades down the many levels of the organization from the CEO to the frontline supervisor. It is distinguished by a set of unique characteristics that make it a powerful tool for sustaining alignment.

The Significance of the Paradigm Change

Typical downward-focused results meetings often last hours and are usually made up of a series of presentations by the direct reports about performance during the previous period. For example, at the CEO level, the downward focus requires presentations by the Sales VP, the Operations VP, the HR VP, and other staff functions. Considerable energy goes into preparing for the presentations that often include spreadsheets, graphs, and detailed explanations. The presentations communicate what happened in the past and give reasons why performance has been below or above expectations. Takeaways from such meetings include sharing of performance with the boss; sharing information with peers; and conversations about the actions of each direct report.

While these takeaways are valuable, we have found that the existing process is redundant when Total Alignment is in place. Most often these traditional meetings take too much valuable time of the participants who are listening to details that are not relevant to them but are mainly meaningful to the boss. Too much time is spent dwelling on the past, with the future opportunities often neglected or ignored. These downward-focused meetings also feed the destructive silo mentality that exists in most organizations, where each function competes to receive the attention of the boss, sometimes ignoring the overall health of the company. These meetings also feed the ego of the manager sitting and evaluating the performance of each direct report.

The Team Review has its own unique characteristic that make it both an effective instrument for alignment and a powerful instrument for execution. It takes away the unintended semblance of superiority of the boss that comes with the hierarchy and often becomes a barrier to alignment. It relieves the boss, from having to constantly provide direction and priorities for the direct reports, because scorecards have already been defined for them.  Jobholders who have direct influence on a KPI at the lowest appropriate level of the organization have clarity on what they need to focus on and are empowered to act. Team Review also distributes the power of decision making throughout the management pyramid with most operational decisions being made at the lower levels, and most strategic decision being made at the upper levels. It focuses all these vital units on the future, not just reporting about the past. Its main aim is to provide a solution to improve performance for the future. With Total Alignment, the performance evaluation is also changed to reflect the performance of each scorecard. Performance is visible and transparent in each individual scorecard through the TOPS software.

These changes are meant to relieve the boss from burdens that contribute to misalignment in the organization. They are meant to save the time of managers so that they can address other important issues. Middle level managers can spend the extra time to increase the number of direct reports they oversee, while upper-level managers can spend the extra time on executing strategic initiatives for the future of the company. Further, in Team Review, the boss benefits by engaging his team to help him improve his own scorecard performance through the creative ideas he receives.

As we described in our article, The State of Alignment in the Organization, the scorecards include those KPIs a jobholder has direct influence over. Other jobholders in the organization could have the same KPIs as influence factors. In a Team Review, the manager invites those cross-functional influencers to attend. The space becomes a forum for creativity and group effort to improve the status of the KPI in his scorecard. The action plan that emerges from this meeting becomes the product of the collaborative effort of the individuals who have indispensable influence on the KPI. Over time, the silos that might have existed in the organization disappear through this cross-functional collaboration.

Empowerment through the Team Review Process

The fundamental principle that inspires the state of alignment in the organization is the Oneness of Humankind. * There are numerous implications of this principle that encourage cooperation, reciprocity, and social justice. This principle eliminates the distinctions of “us” and “them” as well as other barriers to oneness that make the boss or certain classes of individuals appear superior. The boss has a function to perform based on knowledge and experience. The direct report can gain that knowledge and experience in time. Both are on the same path of learning; both have valuable contributions to make. By empowering the lower levels of the organization, we are assigning great value to their contributions no matter what their social status, age, or ethnicity. All are striving for excellence, and all can move as one to fulfill the mission of the organization.

Consultation in Team Review

The key to the cultural transformation that establishes and sustains the state of alignment is the principle of consultation.   By consultation we mean conversations that are not directed at proving a particular point of view, but rather offered to allow the group to grow the ideas toward discovering the best solution. * The difference is enormous. In the first case the conversation is aimed at convincing the team to adopt a particular point of view that serves individual interests. In the second case, the team is listening to conversations that can coalesce with other contributions to arrive at the best solution for the organization. The first case is the norm in debates and many of the discourses of society, when the presenters are not open to changing their points of view. The second is present in organizations that have intentionally adopted the principle of consultation where all participants are detached from their ideas and strive to arrive at the best course of action for the organization. It exists within the culture of Total Alignment.

We have found that transforming people’s thinking and orientation from the first to the second case requires guidelines for consultation that are adopted by the organizations. A sample of such guidelines are as follows:

  • Everyone participates.
  • The purpose is to find the best solution.
  • No hierarchy
  • Listen to understand not to respond.
  • No put downs in words or body language
  • One meeting, avoid side conversations.
  • Wait to be recognized by the facilitator.
  • Be detached from your idea once presented.
  • No cell phone use except in emergency.

Most people would agree with these guidelines. Therefore, it is not difficult to establish them upfront. However, it is often challenging to change the behaviors of participants.

To assure the adoption of these guidelines in all Team Reviews as well as all the meetings that take place in the company, we have defined three roles for the meetings. The first is the role of the facilitator, usually performed by the boss. The facilitator creates an agenda for the meeting based on the performance of his or her scorecard and invites his team as well as appropriate cross-functional influencers ahead of time. He or she facilitates the meeting following the agenda and the guidelines for consultation. The second is the role of monitor who observes the meeting and is empowered to request a pause and point out any deviations from the consultation guidelines. Finally, the recorder manages the software during the meeting and enters the action plans and commitments generated into the software, TOPS. When the consultation guidelines are implemented and adhered to, they prove extremely effective.

While everyone’s opinion is respected and encouraged, we know that not all contributions to the team have equal value, as some people have less knowledge or experience. But all contributions are welcome and add to the group effort to find the best option. Also, the Team Review is not a forum for consensus decision making. It is a forum for consultation and finding the best options. The power of decision rests not in consensus, but with the person who has accountability for a KPI no matter where he is in the organizational hierarchy. The Team Review process gives this person the best thinking of the group supported by data and analysis to help him arrive at a decision.

 Cultural Change through Team Review

The discussion above about the improvement of KPIs in Team Reviews is one of the main contributions of Total Alignment to the growth and prosperity of the organization. Yet, more is needed for cultural change and sustaining the state of alignment.

As the purpose of alignment is not just improving results but establishing a culture of all moving together as one, great emphasis is placed on culture rather than results. Results are among the byproducts of that culture. Beyond the conversations to improve the status of KPIs in Team Review, three other conversations have been added to the process. They include conversation on core values, conversation on development of teamwork, and conversation to promote synergies among the functions represented in the Team Review. The conversation about values centers on pinpointed behaviors that make up those values. Pinpointed behaviors are specific, measurable, and observable behaviors that combine to demonstrate adherence to the values. When the participants in a Team Review reflect on the pinpointed behaviors, they become more conscious of aligning their own behaviors with the core values of the organization. The full description of these three conversations is beyond the scope of this article.

The Learning Model

The Team Review follows the three elements of the learning model: ConsultationAction, and Reflection. ** The Consultation element usually consists of the conversations to improve one of the KPIs of the boss. It leads to action plans that are based on analysis identifying root causes, solution alternatives, action items with deadlines, and individuals responsible to meet those deadlines, all managed through a mobile app. The Action element is putting the action plan in place by executing the action items. The Reflection element is reviewing the outcomes of the implemented action items and articulating the learning that has taken place. The cycle repeats itself in future Team Review sessions as the learning feeds consultation to arrive at a revised action plan.

When this learning model is applied to all the KPIs in Team Reviews throughout the organization, the performance of the company improves substantially, often dramatically.  **

Summary of Benefits of Team Review

  • The Team Review greatly reduces the time spent in preparing and sharing information in traditional results meetings.
  • It avoids the long presentations on past performance that take place in traditional meetings where detailed information not relevant to all participants is usually shared and often excuses rather than solutions are offered.
  • It focuses on solving problems for the future and brings together those who are directly accountable for a KPI with all those who share indispensable influence.
  • It serves to eliminate silos in the organization through the cross-functional collaboration that takes place in all Team Reviews during each period.
  • It changes the role of the manager from controlling, directing, and even micromanaging to supporting and encouraging.
  • It changes the posture of jobholders from being passive recipients of directions from the top to active protagonists of their own scorecard.
  • It engages the whole natural team in brainstorming and action planning and distributes the ownership of performance among all jobholders.
  • It enables managers to receive valuable input and advice from below to shape their views and course of action.
  • It contributes to a culture of problem solving, action planning, and collaboration across functional areas.
  • It saves the valuable time of managers that could be spent on important issues.
  • It sustains horizontal alignment in the organization.

Twin Processes

You might ask how the new model allows the boss to become aware of the results obtained at the next level below without asking each direct report to share their results in the meeting. Our answer is that all the information the boss needs to see is available through the three one-page reports from the TOPS software.

Additionally, the second management process of Total Alignment, the Vertical Review directly responds to that need. Briefly, in the Vertical Review, the boss conducts one-on-one meetings with each of his or her direct reports every period. Not only can they discuss what happened during the previous period, but also, they review the action plan that the collaborator has already prepared for the meeting – one which has had the benefit of cross-functional input and in-depth problem analysis and solution. A more comprehensive description of Vertical Review can be found in a different article.

* Baha’í Writings

** See 2023 case study of ProlecGE, the largest transformer solutions company in the continent.

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