August 31, 2021

A DIY Alignment Exercise to Re-Boot and Re-Align Any Team

Al Cini

Every now and then, even the best teams get stuck. As your crew shifts from “we” to “me,” personal differences surface, pointless arguments erupt, and progress grinds to a halt. We’ve all been there.

So, you call a meeting. But what do you talk about? As always, of course, you talk about the work. You drill down the long list of unreached goals, unfinished tasks, and unresolved issues.

And then, you take that dreaded shame-and-blame trip around the room. “Where are we on this, Lisa?” “How are we doing on that, Bob?” Brutal. Feels like waterboarding. Very de-motivating. Not at all helpful.

“Same time next week, everyone?” <Groan>

Next meeting, instead of talking about the work, try talking about your team.

An Innovative Way to Start Fresh

At the heart of every successful team, there exists a positive role model that represents its best self, living its best day at work.

Proudly aligned with this role model of ideal behavior, the members of effective teams communicate openly, collaborate willingly, and innovate fearlessly in ardent pursuit of their shared goals. Instead of “me,” successful teams are all about “we.”

You can shift your team from me to we and re-engage them in their shared goals. It’s easy, it doesn’t take long, and even the most hard-nosed, by-the-book, non-touchy-feely boss can do it in just five steps.

Step 1: Call a special Re-Boot and Re-Alignment Meeting. Allow about 2 hours for it, but it probably won’t take that long. Be sure to include everyone – consultants, contractors, employees, admins, everyone – up to about 15 participants max per meeting.

A day or two ahead of time, pose the Incorporating Question, one that speaks to the heart and soul of every team:

If our entire team – everyone, its processes and traditions, its skills and tools, all of it – were just a single “virtual person” doing its best work on its best day to keep its promises and deliver its best results, what would that person be like?

Ask everyone to draft a short list of 5 to 10 attributes that describe this ideal “virtual person.” Suggest that they work on this individually, without comparing notes with each other.

What’s an attribute? For our purposes, attributes are salient behavioral features of role models – in other words, the great things role models do that make them role models.

If your team’s a support group, your people will probably come up with attributes like “respectful” and “compassionate.” If your team’s into quality control, they’ll likely identify attributes like “meticulous” and “analytical.”

Do this exercise yourself, too. Be a participant in this meeting, not just the facilitator or leader.

Step 2: At the beginning of your Reboot and Realignment meeting, write the Incorporating Question prominently on a marker board or flip chart and start a list under the heading “Attributes.” Ask everyone to begin sharing the attributes they’ve come up with, one attribute at a time.

  • Smile. Be patient. Encourage everyone to participate; don’t play favorites. The members of “stuck” teams can be wary and defensive, reluctant to step up. It may take a while for people to realize there’s no risk here and settle into the exercise. Break the ice by starting the list of attributes off with one or two of your own.
  • Many won’t have done their “homework.” Keep smiling. No judging, no problem. They’ll catch up as the attributes begin to flow and your list grows.
  • Less is definitely more. As each new attribute is offered, check the list to see if it’s a synonym for a previously offered attribute. Work with everyone to come up with a well-curated list of unique role model attributes.

Step 3. Start at the top of your list of attributes. For each:

  • Ask everyone to offer one or two things that people with that attribute consistently do. For example, “respectful” people clearly acknowledge others’ contributions by sincerely thanking them verbally and sending supportive emails.
  • Ask everyone to offer one or two things that people with that attribute don’t do. Same example: “respectful” people don’t look down their noses and ridicule others’ ideas, and they don’t gossip behind their colleagues’ backs.
  • Participate in this. Here and there, offer a few dos and don’ts of your own.

In response to your Incorporating Question, you now have a list with three columns:

  • The attributes of your team’s ideal role model, the “virtual person” who represents your team’s best self on its best day.
  • For each attribute, one or two observable positive behaviors to be emulated, and one or two observable negative behaviors to be avoided.


Step 4. Allow about 20 to 30 minutes for everyone to write a Personal Alignment Plan: a list of two or three things about themselves, each associated with one of the attributes on your team’s list, that he or she can comfortably commit to changing in order to become more aligned with your teams’ ideal role model.

Typically, most will pattern their Personal Alignment Plans after the items on your list of do’s and dont’s. You may be surprised, however, by how many come up with their own creative and heartfelt ideas for commitments. Keep in mind, People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. There’s just enough structure in a Reboot and Realignment Meeting to keep the conversation about self-improvement on track without giving people the uncomfortable feeling that they’re being herded and manipulated.

Lead by example. Participate in this. Write your own Personal Alignment Plan. Aligned with the attributes on your list, identify things that you intend to start or stop doing in order to become a better leader, colleague, or contributor on your team.

Step 5. Allow everyone a minute or so to talk about one or two of the commitments they made in their Personal Alignment Plans. Start the conversation by talking about a few of yours.

  • This meeting is a safe space, no judging, no scoffing. A little humor is OK, as long as the laughing is always with and never at someone. People are free to choose to keep some of their commitments to themselves. They can pass and not share anything at all.
  • Suggest informal accountability partnerships, i.e., pairs of peers who will help each other keep to their plans.

Seriously. This Exercise Works.

In developing and refining this approach within our Brand and Culture Alignment Toolkit (BCAT), working with more than 1500 participants in numerous groups of all kinds and sizes, we’ve seen this exercise double a team’s engagement in their collective efforts. The overwhelming majority (almost 100%) of participants report that they saw value and enjoyed the experience. And, in follow-up interviews, nearly 60% reported that they felt they were making progress and sticking with their Personal Alignment Plans. (Compare that with barely 5% or so of employees who typically report that their company’s traditional periodic Performance Review process has any kind of positive impact on their work lives.)

For Extra Credit.

Keep the Alignment conversation going by repeating this exercise. Build future meetings around discussions about alignment with specific attributes, or talk about progress and issues your team members may be experienced as they follow their Personal Alignment Plans. Incorporate your team’s Personal Alignment Plans in future one-on-one performance reviews and coaching sessions.

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