An Organization Beautifully Aligned
Most organizations lack organization. They are filled with individuals pursuing personal adrenaline, comfort, safety and recognition. Focus further breaks down through the competing priorities of departments, hierarchy and stakeholders. Occasionally, however, we glimpse an organization beautifully aligned.
It was Mother’s Day 1995 on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, MA. We were the final boat out of six in the final heat of the national collegiate rowing championship… Our season began six months earlier for over 150 guys with relatively no prior rowing experience. Fewer than 20 stayed. The season was defined by early morning practices at a community boathouse without much glory… And halfway through the race, we were in last place, as expected. Until a moment I will never forget. One of my closest friends to this day, Max, yelled from the back of the boat, “I love you guys!” And we knew he meant it. At which point the boat lifted up off the water and FLEW. My dad had flown to watch the race and recalls the announcer shouting, “Out of nowhere Boston College into fifth, into fourth…” And I will always carry the image of our coach putting the bronze medals around our necks with tears in his eyes.
When an organization unifies around a core focus, it can achieve uncommon results. Three uncommon factors in achieving core focus are:
1. Trust. What our college rowing team lacked in athletic ability we made up in trust. We consistently showed up, we suffered together and we were transparent with each other. Much of this was a byproduct of doing life together. We weren’t all friends but you could find us having lunch together, telling personal stories and being honest with each other. Trust requires daily deposits and is the critical factor in sustainable alignment.
2. Planning. Last week I facilitated a two-day strategic planning meeting for a client where we began by discussing a quote from consultants Michael Allison and Jude Kaye: “Planning builds commitment among key stakeholders to priorities that are essential to its mission and are responsive to the environment. Being strategic requires recognizing choices and committing to one set of responses instead of another.” Toward the end of the meeting, after negotiating a set of shared priorities, each leader in the meeting stood and declared, “I’m in.” Planning is about committing to shared choices.
3. Simplicity. Recently a CEO told me that she believed her organization shouldn’t pursue more than 3-5 strategies – more would deteriorate focus. Her belief is supported by a mathematical number sequence developed by Leonardo Fibonacci in 1202. He showed that many organisms in nature exponential disseminate as they grow beyond five elements. And it may help explain how the human mind can often only focus on fewer than five priorities at a time. Watch this fun video to see the law play out in nature.
How is the alignment in your organization and how can you create more focus?