How to Align With Your Team to Solve Any Problem

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I see it every day, over and over again: different perspectives, power struggles and personality distortions. In every industry, leaders and managers are constantly solving problems and making decisions of all magnitudes, often requiring team collaboration. While a solution may not be able to address every single dimension of a problem, we can come to a decision that addresses enough dimensions to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible. However, this step is easier said than done.

How do we overcome the obstacles of different perspectives and create alignment to make better decisions as a team? By aligning each individual piece in the same direction.

When everyone is aligned on scope, criteria and mentality, no matter how different our roles are, we all know the right direction to steer. Effective teamwork depends on this alignment.

See also: The Alignment Factor: Collaboration is the backbone of alignment

Align the area to focus on the problem

To start a productive conversation that leads to effective solutions, a team should first be aligned on scope. To do this, we need to focus our perspectives on the scope of the problem. Different people might perceive the scope of a challenge differently. Until the scope is agreed, a discussion is unlikely to help resolve the issue.

For example, a couple evaluating their dog’s diet may have different areas: one partner may be talking about the dog’s diet for the animal’s health, while the other may be concerned about how much it will affect their monthly budget. Both issues are important, but must be treated separately. Once they figure out which is more important, budget or diet, they can focus on that area and have a meaningful discussion.

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Consider the scope first to draw a boundary around the intended purpose within which an applicable solution can be found. This anchors team brainstorming in one central spot while allowing as many different ideas as possible to stay within that area. Allow everyone to bring their perspective, but discard anything that differs.

Align criteria with results

After the scope is defined, we need to align with criteria – which can be used to judge a solution as good or bad – to help narrow down these potential solutions with team consensus.

A CMO and a CFO can have very different problems to solve, such as market share for the CMO and profit margin for the CFO. This can create an argument in decision making, even when examining the same scope as a brand budget. To work together on this decision, they need to set the criteria against which to evaluate the value of their solutions: higher profit margins for the year or long-term brand building? Then management teams can align and focus their solutions on what brings the most value to the business. Both the CMO and CFO can make their own operational decisions as long as those decisions have a positive impact as measured against this shared set of criteria.

By successfully establishing these types of common criteria among team members, you create a common standard that can be used to measure results. The criteria act as guardrails, minimizing the possibility of team members making counter-efforts and eliminating disputes about the end results.

See also: Why Team Building is Essential to Your Business Success

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Align interests for common benefit

For effective problem solving as a team, all parties must be able to see the transition from our own perspective to that of others, and each party involved should benefit from at least some perspective. If I go into a decision feeling like I have to win a fight, that shift in perspective probably won’t happen. The win or lose mentality is a zero sum game – I win at the expense of your loss. Instead, we need to start solving the problem from the same page.

Of course, some people may not be willing to move away from their own perspective. This means that scope can no longer just be a question of problem solving. We must first broaden our perspective in a slightly different direction – in this case towards my relationship or the team dynamics around that person – before returning to this original one.

First, I try to gauge that person’s motivation for winning. Does this relate to the personal interest of that person? Or is it just a personality issue? When it comes to personal interests, I focus on aligning that person’s interests with those of the team. In this way, the individual can realize the personal benefit of the team in achieving their goal. If it’s just a personality issue, I would help them understand the damage done to their personality at the expense of the team not achieving their goal.

In some situations people cannot change no matter how hard you try. Is it worth trying harder? This assessment is based on the criteria and a return on investment (ROI) concept. When your efforts to achieve the team goal are no longer justified, you may have to make the difficult decision of leaving that specific person out of the decision-making process in order to achieve the overall goal. Once you’ve resolved that divergent scope for the team, everyone can go back to solving the original problem.

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At this point, to effectively solve a problem, we must consider all possible solutions by analyzing what factors are within our control and what are unavoidable obstacles. This allows you to focus your time and effort on actions that ultimately lead to progress.

Alignment is based on teamwork

When the team moves as a whole and works as one, they become more powerful than any individual on the team. If the team is sporadic and not coordinated, it may be better to have one person for the job. Instead of fighting for solutions, everyone involved can work together to find better solutions more efficiently.

Related: The 4 levels of organizational alignment

Align interests in solving a problem so the team can work as a whole. This is one of the most important steps you can take to solve the problem. Of course there can still be arguments, but having the basis of interest alignment in a problem makes it easier to align the scope and criteria for the solution. Even two different departments with different agendas and remits, such as sales and accounting, should be able to find common ground in their alignment with the company’s mission and interests. If we get all parties on one side, we will find more and better solutions. The framework of this process is universal and applicable to any problem-solving scenario, from agreeing on dog food brands to aligning board-level initiatives, or anything in between.

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