Alignment and Agreement are not the same thing
"Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another and of strength to be derived by unity" Vince Lombardi
Think back to your last team meeting where decisions needed to be made. The meeting likely involved the people you rely on to help lead and make those decisions. Everyone had an opportunity to share their views and ideas. At the end of that meeting, however, a decision was required and someone had to make it. Maybe you didn't like the decision or thought it could have been made differently? How did you feel leaving that meeting? Were you still a believer on the purpose that had been set out? Are you able to support the decisions made even if you don't agree with how it will play out?
These are important questions for us because we deal with them in some form each week. We are often put in a position that demands us to separate the personal from the corporate goal. Perhaps it isn't that black and white but our underlying motivations might tell a different story. The truth is a bit different.
We don't have to agree with each other's ideas or methods to be aligned with a single purpose. Alignment supersedes the need to agree. In fact, the best form of alignment is typically born out of a series of disagreements and differences. The friction that is often caused when you disagree and debate a topic is the sort of thing that allows you to see all sides to a situation or, at a minimum, more than just your side.
You can see this principle at work in marriage, for example, where two people agree to be aligned with the purpose (this is why we take vows) but most of us know that agreement isn't always the by-product of alignment in a relationship.
Why do we tend to treat alignment and agreement the same? Maybe it is because we like getting our own way and we don't like the idea of people disagreeing with us. Perhaps we've never given it much thought and made assumptions that they overlap in some way. It's possible someone, along with the career path, told us in their own way that they were same. We confuse the two by tricking ourselves into believing that if you agree with my ideas then you are automatically aligned with me. We confuse alignment and agreement because there are traces of each of them found in the other and separating them often seems unnatural.
That said, alignment does begin with forms of agreement. We agree to be aligned with a purpose or vision. We agree that to be aligned we will take feedback on our ideas and the ideas of others. We agree that to remain aligned we will have to work at it and that this effort will require us to comfortable with the uncomfortable.
This is about as far as alignment and agreement go together. Beyond this point, the purpose and vision are stated and the work begins. We no longer need to question the purpose but we might question the views of others and those that we offer. From here it is about the focus on what we set out to do. The friction begins as we sit in meetings where we need to make decisions about our business. When our input and ideas are tested so is our belief in what we said we're aligned on. The temptation to blend alignment and agreement are ongoing and something that takes a deliberate effort to separate by giving them each their proper place.
We need the freedom to share our feedback but we also need the understanding, and perhaps maturity, to recognize that our feedback isn't always going to be the answer or make the difference. We offer it because we want to contribute to the best outcome not because we need to be right. Maybe the best possible state is to be completely aligned and agreed and there are many situations where this is true.
Many people talk about what makes up a high performing team. Apart from the practices and principles in play, it centers on alignment around the stated purpose, the vision, the goals.
"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime" Babe Ruth