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Seek Alignment Not Agreement

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John Clarke | SVP & CIO | Nokia

I took my extended team of about twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four senior managers… I took them sailing for the day. In fact, I took them racing on yachts. We chartered three yachts, and we went racing. This is a very clear intent. If you had raced yachts, you might know this: you go around a buoy and then you go off toward another direction, the second buoy and third buoy, as part of a course. What typically happens, though, is when you go around the first buoy, you can’t see the next one. You know roughly where it is. What you must do is head in that direction until you see it and then you adjust accordingly. Now the lesson I was trying to share here, and we demonstrated this during the race—we changed tactics—was around the need for teams, crossfunctional teams in particular, to be good at being aligned. They knew that they couldn’t see the next goal or the buoy. They knew that they could head in that direction, make a decision, and then adjust for it accordingly. As opposed to, often teams are not aligned and they focus on trying to get the full agreement. Therefore, what that does is slow down the decision-making process. They would stop. You’d stop the yacht, think about it to where you all agreed, and you then set off. That is a sure-fire way to lose a race. My lesson here was trying to show how to make decisions by focusing on alignment rather than agreement. A good example where that can be employed is in the strategic process, when you try and write a strategy. You can guarantee whenever you write a strategy that everybody has their own interpretation of that strategy. What you’re looking for there is, is that strategy good enough for everyone to go away and do what they need to do? That’s a good test because if they’re aligned, they may not fully agree with it, but what they are saying is, “Despite not fully agreeing with it, I can go away and do what I need to do now.” Again, it’s just applying that to some things like strategies, where you do need to have people clear about what they need to do, rather than going away thinking, “I don’t agree with it, so therefore I can’t do anything yet.” Rather than asking, “Just a simple test here at the end of a meeting; are we all in agreement?” ask, “Are we all in alignment?” instead, because alignment’s important. If you’re all aligned, you can make a decision. If you need to be all agreed, that can take a lot longer and, therefore, decisions get made more slowly.

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