Leadership hack 006 – alignment is not agreement

Aligning people when everyone agrees is easy.  However, you will often disagree with others on what you are trying to achieve and how best to achieve it.  Disagreement is not harmful, most of the time it is beneficial to have our ideas and assumptions tested – two minds are better than one.  However, if a disagreement turns into misalignment, the results can be disastrous.

Disagreement is often down to information asymmetry – people have access to different information.  Every day you are battered with information.  Emails, phone call, meetings, books and articles and our personal interactions – all of these imbue us with information about what we are currently working on, while also building our experience and character.  As no two people can be in the same place all the same time.  No two individuals can ever truly have the same information.

Alignment is critical.  To use a rowing analogy, the boat goes faster if everyone is pulling in the same direction.   As Loizos Heracleous and Katrin Werres argue in their paper misalignment can lead to strategic failure.  Another finding from their paper was that leadership was an important factor in the misalignment.  So if we conclude that disagreement can be healthy, but misalignment it is bad, how do we prevent the slide into misalignment?

Building alignment when people disagree is hard, but it can be achieved by reducing the information gap and creating an environment of trust.  Reducing the information gap may shift people from disagreement to agreement.  However, reducing the gap may not be possible. The information gap may be too wide, or it may be too difficult to close the gap sufficiently.  In this case, the only other alternative to aligning people with your idea is with their trust in you, the organisation and the team.