Alignment: The Intersection of Communication & Comprehension
One of the most confusing rules for people new to soccer is offsides. It’s one of the reasons I despised sitting by other spectators while watching my daughters play. People who don’t understand it will yell incessantly at the referee or players when they think it either did or didn’t happen. In neither instance is their input helpful.
A player is offsides if he / she is behind the last defender on the opposing team’s half of the field when the ball is passed to them. It’s meant to prevent cherry-picking in front of the opposing team’s goal. The confusion comes from the fact that offsides happens as soon as the player passing the ball releases it, and not when the player receiving the ball receives it. Most people only see the point at which the receiving player gets it and is at that point in time behind the last defender.
Smart offensive players will stay even or one step onside until their teammate passes the ball and then they’ll try to outrun the defender to get the ball. Hence, if they’re fast enough, it will appear that they're offsides the whole time.
Offsides is a very effective tool defenses use. However, unlike for an offense where it’s usually just one player involved in receiving the ball, on defense it’s the entire defensive line that must be in sync in order to trap the other team in an offside position. The lead defender has the responsibility for keeping the other defenders aligned, mentally and physically. Without alignment it’s nearly impossible to trap the other team offsides, thereby nullifying one of the best tactical tools for slowing down the opposing offense.
Team alignment, particularly lead team alignment, is crucial in business as well. If the leaders aren’t aligned, it’s very likely the rest of the team isn’t aligned either, which can result in inefficiency, waste, lack of direction, miscommunication and confusion.
What is the Alignment Intersection?
Alignment is the intersection of communication and comprehension (see Intersection 30 image below). Communication without comprehension is all-talk-no-substance. Comprehension without communication is keeping the right answer to yourself.
Alignment is about balancing the focus, direction and pace of your lead team. It doesn’t always mean agreement, but it does mean understanding.
Communication seems like an obvious component of alignment. However, in my experience, it’s often overlooked or undervalued in its potential effectiveness. People crave communication and often feel like there isn’t enough of it. The irony is leaders will only learn about perceived or actual communication issues by engaging in more communication and listening.
The key to communication is ensuring its relevance to the audience. Communicating to a senior leadership team or a board is different than communicating to a middle management team, delivery team or external stakeholder. The reason for the difference isn’t due to competence, but rather due to role and the information needed to maximize performance for that role.
Intersection 30: Alignment = Communication + Comprehension
Comprehension is about ensuring the information being communicated is relevant and appropriate for the audience and can be understood. When communication is confusing and comprehension is compromised, the probability of misalignment increases. Comprehension is about getting a team aligned on the same outcome and method to get there.
Successfully comprehension can be observed when teams function and deliver as they were intended to. This would indicate that communication of the what, why, when, where and how was in fact comprehended. Everyone has a role and understands that role and its place within the team. When this happens, confusion and inefficiency are minimized.
What Can Leaders Do?
Leaders must communicate, communicate, communicate…considering message, audience, tone, relevance and detail. They don’t do it necessarily to gain approval, but to build awareness and understanding. My observation is that teams with strong communication practices and high comprehension are better positioned to perform as designed than those where communication and / or comprehension is deficient.
Alignment begins with senior leadership. Leaders can start by ensuring alignment within the lead team and being an example for the rest of the organization.
Wrap Up & Up Next
Alignment is about focus and a collective path forward. Being aligned isn’t always synonymous with being in agreement. Effective communication and the associated comprehension create alignment from the top down.
This is the 30th and final intersection in the Intersections of Performance series. Thank you for reading.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.