When people in an organization talk about alignment, the assumption is, “Well, that must mean we’re all in agreement.” But that’s not necessarily the case.
More often than you might expect, I find that agreement and alignment get confused. There are distinct differences between the two. From my perspective, one is imperative for teams to make progress, while the other is not. Let’s take a deeper look at these concepts so you can apply the right one to your decision making going forward.
Agreement is a nice-to-have, while alignment is a must-have.
You might have thought agreement was the “must-have,” right? The reality is, you don’t need to agree with every decision made in the business, but you do need to align with it. From my perspective, “agreement” is simply saying, “Yes, I agree with that plan of action.” It fits your worldview or what you think is best for employees, the company, your community, etc.
Alignment doesn’t necessarily require agreement. Alignment requires that you support the decision of the leader or the team, even if you don’t agree with it. While you might disagree with it, it’s not a “fall on your sword” type of disagreement. A lot of other factors have probably already been hammered out.
For example, if you’re deciding what kinds of pens you need to put in the office supply cabinet, it probably isn’t something you need to spend a lot of time on. You’re likely not worried about having an agreement with every person in the company on types of pens. You have enough information to make such a decision on your own without buy-in from the entire team.
Let’s take something with even more significant implications, though. You’ve just had a critical staff meeting and everyone seems to be rowing in the same direction — except one sales “superstar” who believes what was said in the meeting doesn’t apply to them. They had their day in court and said what they had to say in that meeting, but the rest of the group didn’t agree. They’re in alignment, but that salesperson is still resisting. However, that salesperson likely doesn’t realize that they could be limiting their career by not aligning with the group’s or leader’s decision.
What about asking others?
I believe that if you have the luxury of bringing other people into the process when you’re not sure about something, you should listen to what they have to say. That said, you don’t have to make your decision based on everything they say. At the end of the day, as the leader, you are responsible for making decisions. You can’t delegate that to the group. You have to make tough choices. That’s why you’re considered a leader. If you do include others, you don’t have to agree with what they’ve decided as long as it’s been a good process for decision-making. But you do have to align.
Align, move or leave.
Eventually, you will run into a decision you disagree with. That’s natural. But at a certain point, there can’t be any more debate. And when the discussion ends, if you can’t get behind the direction, you will need to align yourself with it. Otherwise, you may need to move to a different department or leave the company.
Does that sound harsh? Sure, it can be. But I believe having nonalignment regularly is dangerous. You can have regular disagreements among people, but a company without alignment is living on borrowed time before experiencing a crucial mistake that has consequences.
Now that you know the difference between alignment vs. agreement, which one is your company favoring? Here’s hoping it’s alignment above all.