Is There a Paradox Between “Getting Everyone Aligned” and Having “Diversity and Avoiding Groupthink”?

It’s the Super Bowl, and you are the quarterback for one of the teams facing off. Wearing your football jersey, helmet, shoulder pads and cleats, you look at your teammates coming onto the field for the kick-off. Now, imagine the confusion and looming sense of defeat you would feel being the team captain when you realize that each of your teammates was instead dressed and ready to play something other than football — say, soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis… and yes, a few even came prepared for 18 holes of golf, and one person had expected bocce ball. It’s an absurd scenario that dramatically illustrates the state and consequence of “misalignment” within a team. It is no different in the corporate world — misalignment is the proverbial kiss of death.

Getting a team “aligned” is obviously critical to achieve its goals. AETHOS’ research on high-performance organizations and service-driven cultures reveals that there are four, interrelated elements of alignment underlying organizational effectiveness and efficiency. We call this the Performance Matrix, and it is simple to understand:

If sports is not your thing, then think of this Performance Matrix akin to driving a car on a long road trip and understanding the rules of the road. First, an organization’s ultimate goals, or where it’s heading, must be defined (the “destination”); second, the strategies that are necessary to reach that destination (the “roadmap”) must be formulated; third, the resources required to follow the roadmap must be determined and allocated (the “fuel”); and fourth, the organization must constantly monitor both the fuel and course to ensure it remains headed on the correct path (the “dashboard” measuring outcomes).

Getting aligned in these four ways is not synonymous with “groupthink,” i.e., where a set of individuals all adopts a near-identical ideological pattern of thinking and acting. defined it more formally as, “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

Groupthink is another proverbial kiss of death when seeking innovation and well-vetted ideas and actions. Constructively debating the details in the Performance Matrix is necessary for the best plan and collective sense of ownership to emerge. And, the Performance Matrix is never fully finished; there are always course corrections made for one reason or another. Therefore, a strong team has members who speak up, challenge assumptions and bring their unique expertise and value proposition to the equation. Strong leaders foster that debate and a platform for an exchange of new or better ideas.

A sports team is a collection of specialists working together on a common goal while simultaneously knowing the game rules. Likewise, organizations do not need team members who are clones, but rather need a team with “intellectual diversity” to help produce the best, well-rounded plan that everyone understands and supports.

It may sound funny or paradoxical, but ultimately that team diversity helps to facilitate the best alignment.


OTHER ARTICLES BY James Houran, Ph.D., Dallas

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