Alignment is messy: Let your teams lead the way to more purposeful work
The elusive alignment problem has a solution -- and it’s all about small positive behaviors leading to massive impact
“There is one fundamental business challenge. It’s the creation and maintenance of alignment.” - Stuart Butterfield, Slack
Alignment: the process that ensures an organization's structure and resource usage support its strategy. A concept easy to understand but woefully difficult to execute.
While Slack founder Stewart Butterfield shared his quote about the challenge of misalignment just two years ago, this is far from being a new problem. The explosion of distributed teams and remote work has made alignment even more challenging. US companies lose $450B annually to mismanaged productivity along with a whopping $1T in attrition costs because good employees get fed up enough to leave when purpose is lacking. Businesses have tried myriad approaches to making progress, including spending nearly $300B a year on management consulting, (and we know the general consensus there.)
Many leaders attempt to correct misalignment within their organization with a top-down OKR approach that emphasizes cascading goals. But command-and-control management styles are out of touch with reality because they lack autonomy, agility, and resilience, and create low engagement and less innovation.
Despite these efforts and investments, the struggle for alignment via lasting behavioral changes and true impact continues. The opportunity is huge — inclusive, autonomous teams working towards the same north star waste less time, achieve more, and feel more purposeful in their work.
According to Harvard Business Review, the world’s best organizations compete on differentiators other than price and prioritize increasing revenues over decreasing cost. In other words, a firm’s ability to out-think and out-innovate its competition is the primary driver of success. This requires imagination and ingenuity on a daily basis. It’s a team game. Top-down micro-management doesn’t encourage the type of culture needed to thrive in today’s business world.
If alignment is the fundamental challenge, why hasn’t it already been solved in software? When I co-founded Jive Software in 2001, we had the incredible good fortune to build a $200M business helping organizations work better together. Jive enabled collaboration by opening new communication channels across offices and time zones. For our customers, it was a minor revelation.
And that was only the beginning.
As companies learned to work together better, attention shifted to the more complicated problem of actually delivering that work. The second wave of tools like Smartsheet and Asana took aim at enterprise productivity. These tools built on a collaborative foundation to help companies manage tasks and build accountability tracked employees’ work and progress towards specific deliverables. Not only could organizations communicate effectively across time and space—productivity software gave them a structure to help get things done.
Today, collaboration platforms and productivity tools are an integral part of the modern enterprise but the focus is expanding. Productivity and task tracking are no longer enough. A new generation of workers are demanding an answer to Stewart Butterfield’s challenge. Just as collaboration gave way to productivity, the next opportunity is to level-up from tactics to strategy and finally tackle alignment.
A Holistic, Team-Centric Approach
Top-down OKR solutions will struggle to solve this problem of alignment because it robs teams of autonomy, offers low engagement to the rest of the organization, and suffers from the overwhelming complexity of cascading goals.
Koan offers teams a different approach. The future of alignment will be solved by empowering autonomous teams, who are connected to the organizational mission, to work together to solve common problems. Teams create a natural basis for alignment and the space for engagement. When everyone is included in strategic decisions -- at each respective level -- the collaborative approach opens the door for more creativity, and ultimately, improves goal achievement.
Unlike other OKR software, Koan uniquely combines goals with the power of reflection. These two pillars, supported by the foundation of bottom-up goal setting, build a habit-forming workflow practiced by the most exceptional, high-output teams.
The elusive alignment problem has a solution -- and it’s all about small positive behaviors leading to massive impact. Our customers agree: when teams adopt a virtuous and self-reinforcing set of behaviors for purposeful work and consistent learning, it helps them stay aligned, accomplish amazing things, and feel fulfilled in their work.
Koan is here to help make that happen. Learn more at koan.co.