Aligning Teams with the 5 Whys

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries, is credited with developing the “5 Whys” technique of analysis. Toyoda observed that, through asking “why?” iteratively, we are able to get past the superficial symptoms of an issue and dig deep into the fundamental cause. While the 5 Whys is used extensively in process improvement disciplines such as Lean and Six Sigma, it is also a powerful technique for building understanding, achieving consensus, and aligning teams.

Alignment Startup

Sustaining Success through Alignment

Why do many businesses, organizations, and new initiatives start with a BANG! and end in a fizzle? There are many reasons, but one pattern I see frequently is an erosion of the high alignment they had at their beginning. If you’re thinking “Alignment of what,” continue reading…

Are your management practices in alignment?

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed establishing clear Purpose, Priorities, and Plans for the team. But as leaders, we can’t stop when those are in place. We must continually reinforce these things in everything we do as managers. How we manage makes a big difference in whether the team maintains momentum and alignment… or not.


Alignment Planning

But we had a PLAN!!!

We’ve all heard (or said) this at some point in our careers… probably many times. A project, a program, or an entire business has gone off the rails. While this happens frequently due to a total lack of planning, that wasn’t the case here. Instead, you and your team put time and effort into formulating a plan to achieve your goal. But, somehow, things broke down during execution. But why? Perhaps your plans, however complete, were not fully aligned.

Alignment Startup

Hey! Where did our alignment go?!?!?

LostAlignmentToday I was speaking with a colleague about their experience working with several startups. They agreed that start-ups have “natural alignment”. They also agreed that many startups have major challenges maintaining alignment, as they grow. But why?

Alignment Startup

In Startups, Alignment is Natural

This was the observation of a colleague, when we were recently discussing alignment. “Yes, of course,” was the best response I had at the time. But later, as I reflected on it, I realized this was a significant insight. And that there’s quite a bit to be learned from it.
I’ve had the good fortune to be part of two quite successful startups, from early in their life cycle, through periods of explosive growth. I spent nearly 20 years with the first one, experiencing the changes that occur as a startup matures. In the second, I saw many of the same patterns unfold, but at an even faster rate, over five years.

When a Crisis Drives Focus (And Alignment)

Earlier this week, I was talking with SMART Growth author and “business growth catalyst” Jack Spain about alignment. He recounted some of his experiences working for a large public utility here in the Carolinas, where hurricanes and ice storms periodically wreak havoc on the electric infrastructure. “When we had a restoration even, alignment became very clear.” While business-as-usual could get wrapped up in many competing corporate goals and priorities, when a storm impacted a large number of customers, all hands were on deck with a common top priority: restore power as quickly and efficiently as possible. This reminded me of similar stories I had heard from executives and managers at smaller electric co-ops in the past: their organizations excel during restoration activities.


NewCos are All About Alignment

I just read a great post by NewCo founder John Battelle on trends that are remaking business. This is a good read for anyone in any business, and quickly summarizes some of the mega-trends that are changing how we work, who we work for, what we buy, who we buy from, and what it takes to build a successful business.
His point #4 really jumped out at me:

4. A job is table stakes. To win talent, companies must compete on purpose, authenticity, and organizational structure. 
Millennials are now the largest force in the global economy, and they have a markedly different view of work: Purpose and “making a difference in the world” are central in their work-related decisions. They’d rather work at The Honest Company than Unilever, if given a choice – and the best and brightest always have a choice. Members of the next generation want to be at a company where work means more than a paycheck. They believe work can be a calling (Reich) or an expression of our creativity (Florida). BigCos aren’t currently organized to enable their workforces in this way (human resources, anyone?), but NewCos – even the very largest ones like Google – most definitely are.

Alignment Planning

Planning to Plan: Aligning Priorities, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about the importance of a shared context, as a prerequisite for building consensus around a team’s priorities to move forward. I also reviewed some approaches to leading the team through developing this shared context. This shared context needs to include an understanding of:

  • what we really do
  • what we have
  • what we lack
  • our customers’ and stakeholders’ expectations of us
  • how we’re perceived by them currently
  • risks we face
  • opportunities we have to be more than we are
Alignment Planning

Planning to Plan: Aligning Priorities, Part 1

ClingmansPanoramaLowIn the introduction to my “Planning to Plan” series, I proposed that leaders ask themselves a few tough questions about last year’s plan:

  • Did we have a clear, compelling and attainable vision of what we wanted to accomplish?
  • Did our team truly and deeply believe in what we were doing, and why?
  • Did we clearly identify our priorities, and what was “out of bounds”?
  • Did we encourage our critical thinkers to think critically, and help us face the brutal facts?
  • Did our team buy in to an actionable plan that addressed their constraints?
  • Did our entire team review and adapt the plan throughout the year?

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on tapping into the personal passion your team members already have. Once the team understands how the organizational vision aligns with their own passions and vision of the future, what’s next? Priorities.

The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.
– Steven Covey