We’ll bet you’ve heard it a thousand times: “We need to get everybody on the same page.”
It’s one of those things senior leaders and managers say when they feel like people are starting to break off into separate factions or are pursuing a goal by following too many different – likely unapproved and uncoordinated – paths. “Getting everybody on the same page” is an admission that unless people act in a coordinated way, things aren’t going to go the way we planned, or desire.
How Do You Truly Align Your Team?
Getting everybody on the same page sounds easy, until you try to actually do it. Frankly, it’s not likely to happen at all unless you – whether you’re the small team leader or the CEO – work toward this goal in the same way you pursue other elements of your job. If you have a sales target, or a product release date, or a staffing goal that you must meet, you wouldn’t just stumble along and hope that your objective is somehow miraculously achieved, without making a concerted effort to meet those goals, would you? It’s the same for getting people aligned – you have to work at it.
Just as you would pursue a sales number or the launch of a new product, develop a specific plan to align your team.
What we’re really saying when we want to get everyone on the same page is that we need to get the team to pursue something in a coordinated, effective way. Just as you would pursue a sales number or the launch of a new product, develop a specific plan to accomplish this goal. As consultants, strategists, and communication experts who help companies accomplish this “same page” goal every day, here are the four pillars we use with our clients as they engage with their most important audiences – including the people on their own team.
PILLAR ONE: Be Specific about What’s on the “Page”
Getting everyone on the same page is really just a way of saying that you need everyone aligned, in agreement, and working together. To do that, everyone needs to understand what they’re working toward, i.e., the goal. Much has been written about SMART goals, so we won’t belabor that here, but the bottom line is that you, the leader, need to define exactly what you want to accomplish, and when that needs to happen.
When in doubt, we tell our clients to be more, rather than less, specific about their goals and expectations. Most people aren’t leaders, which means they must follow. But if you, as the leader, aren’t clear about where you need your team to go, they’ll spend lots of time wandering aimlessly, inefficiently, and unproductively. Don’t let that happen. Be specific about “the page,” and what it means to “be on it.”
PILLAR TWO: Assign & Document Clear Roles
With so many employees working remotely, it’s more important than ever to keep people focused on their specific roles and duties – something that was already difficult before everyone started working from home. Think about a time when you were assigned a relatively simple but important task to complete, perhaps as part of some non-profit in which you are involved. You’re halfway through the task, and on schedule, when someone else decides that they have some extra time and an interest in your assigned task area. You get an email from them in which they announce that they had some extra time, so they “took at stab at” the thing you’ve been working on. I’ll bet you didn’t feel anything close to appreciation when that happened, and instead were somewhere between annoyed and angry at having had your time wasted. For another example, think about what happens at the typical “potluck” dinner, where everyone is supposed to make their favorite dish, without any real menu coordination occurring. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be eating salads, casseroles, and desserts, rather than having a balanced meal.
Role assignment and accountability for role performance is a key way to get – and keep – everyone on the same page.
This is what happens when people aren’t assigned specific roles on a project, or when assigned roles aren’t enforced by the leader. People just pick whatever they feel like doing from the “page” and decide that that’s what they’ll do. Some people will try to overperform and do other people’s jobs (angering and demotivating teammates in the process), and some jobs simply won’t get done. Your best people will burn out, and your worst performers will hide. It’s a terrible way to work and a far cry from getting everyone on the same page, but we see it all too often across the industry. Role assignment and accountability for role performance is one of the most overlooked aspects of getting – and keeping – everyone on the same “page,” and accomplishing the leader’s goals.
PILLAR THREE: Communicate. Until it Hurts!
We have a friend who is an amazing public speaker and presenter. She consistently has audiences ready to follow her anywhere, and they leave her presentations both informed and inspired. When people see her on stage they feel like they can trust her and form a bond with her that few other speakers can achieve. We asked her about how she so effectively engages with her audience. Her answer? She said, “I smile until it hurts.”
What our successful friend realizes is that just because you think you’ve communicated something, there’s a good chance much of your audience won’t have received – much less embraced – your message. In her case, her smile is an important part of what she wants to communicate (that she’s friendly and cares about other people), but the principle can be applied in other ways. How often have you heard someone clearly communicate a deadline or the date of the next meeting, only to have someone else in the room, just a few minutes later, ask about that same deadline or meeting time, yet again? Often, we’ll bet.
Humans are simply terrible listeners, and even when we do listen, we often fail to retain what we hear (and the same applies to much of what we read). If you want to go beyond merely informing and generate buy-in and enthusiasm, you’d better be selling your idea like your life depends on it, again and again, because the success of your important project almost certainly does. Just as our friend knows, you need to “smile until it hurts” when it comes to communicating, and that’s often difficult for most managers, and even the most charismatic leaders, to accomplish on their own.
PILLAR FOUR: Refer Back to the Page. Often.
If you’re a productive person, you may keep lists. Most people take at least some pleasure out of looking back on their to-do list and feeling like they accomplished the things they set out to do. We highly recommend this “list approach” to our clients as a tactic for managing their time, but in contrast, we also tell them to forget about their “checklist satisfaction” when it comes to keeping people on the same page.
Here’s our reasoning: What we’re really saying here is an offshoot of the concept of overcommunication in Pillar Three. All too often, a leader’s sense of accomplishment that comes from checking things off a list leads them to stop emphasizing “what’s on the page.” They did the things they were supposed to do, after all, and now they’re eager to get on with the rest of their long to-do list. But there’s a danger here, in that the leader may stop emphasizing the importance of everyone sticking to their role, and they may begin to think that they’ve communicated enough. Trust us, when you feel that sense of “check it off the list” satisfaction, in this case, you probably haven’t done any of these things as much as you should.
Leaders need to reinforce “the page” over, and over, and over.
If you want to keep everyone on the same page, you need to reinforce “the page” over, and over, and over. If you stop, it’s like stopping the engines on a ship. It may continue on course for a while, but it will soon begin to drift, and flounder. Continuing to reinforce “the page” is more like a drumbeat than a simple checklist, and you need to keep that drumbeat going until the goal is reached. Only then is it safe to actually turn the page.
Can You Do it?
Of course you can! All of this is probably something you could, at least in theory, do on your own. But that’s not the question. Realistically, the questions are, “Can you do it and accomplish everything else on your list? Can you do it without wearing yourself out? Can you do it and still enjoy your job, and continue to build your career?”, and “Can someone else help you do it better?” Only you can answer those questions.
The Sales Pitch (Yep, We Call it Out for You)
If you do need some help, we’re in that business. We’re experts at helping leaders keep everyone on the same page, largely by helping them with improved internal and key audience communications, and our clients have a track record of successful projects, products, and career advancement. But whether you think you would benefit from our help, or not, is entirely up to you.
If you have a project (or several) and want to do a better job of keeping everyone on the same page – and if you think you might benefit from some help with that effort – feel free to give us a call for a no-obligation chat. Our fees for a full year of support are probably less than a typical brand team spends to develop just a single tactic or two, so cost is rarely the obstacle. More commonly, the real obstacle is realizing that you are paid to get the work done, rather than to do (all) the work, on your own, or with help from only your existing team. If you feel like you could do a better job at getting everyone on the same page, you may have already answered much of that question. If you want to have a chat, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 484-291-1243.
Author: Joe Meadows
Image credit: 123RF.com