Photo: Tuppys/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In Part 1 of this series I wrote about the importance of people alignment as a crucial competence for today’s leaders. Especially in a globalized world, where cross-cultural and multinational challenges are becoming more and more a normal part of the leader’s job, leaders need to understand how to create people alignment. In Part 1 I also described how ‘personal alignment’ plays an important role when creating people alignment. This Part 2 is about another crucial element of people alignment: ‘team alignment’.

What does team alignment actually mean? For one thing, a truly aligned team shows behavior that goes further than just ‘liking each other’, ‘understanding our goals’, ‘having agreement on things’, and ‘behaving as a group’. When we are part of a really aligned team we have a different relationship to the decisions we take in the team: we own these decisions as if they were our own. And even more: we commit to having these decisions work. We go beyond taking decisions together; we commit ourselves to the execution of these decisions. Team alignment is a choice by each team member: when a decision is taken, I will align with it and go for it all the way. Team members behave as co-owners and as partners in achieving what they decided as a team. This is radically different from the ordinary team behavior we see in many teams. 

The leader’s ability to build real team alignment has a direct effect on the business’ success. This leadership competence has always distinguished great leaders from average leaders. And it has become even more crucial for today’s leaders of cross-cultural teams in multinational business environments.

What are specific team alignment challenges for leaders of cross-cultural teams? The most important is that cross-cultural teams often deal with perceived differences in cultural behavior and cultural values. These perceived cultural differences can create confusion and irritation that could seriously hinder the team’s openness and trust. Underestimating the impact of these perceptions will likely damage the team’s alignment and therefore the team’s performance and effectiveness. Also languages can play a role in creating unintended misunderstandings. Don’t underestimate what unequal proficiency can do to a team. And last but not least, openness is vital to creating team alignment, but the way we deal with openness can differ between cultures. In creating team alignment this plays an important role.

Successful leaders know when a team is not really aligned or when team alignment starts to decline. They pay special attention to (re) building it. They understand that team alignment is not a static situation, but a process that needs to be sustained and maintained.  

How can you spot potential lack of team alignment in cross-cultural environments? How to create your ‘leadership compass’ that guides you to you potential weak spots in your team’s alignment? The following questions might help you in building your compass:

  • How is the team doing? Do we know each other well enough? Do we understand each other’s ambitions, aspirations and concerns?
  • What is our mutual level of respect, openness, and trust? How do I encourage this as a leader?
  • Do we understand the cultural differences in our team? Do we share and discuss the perceived differences?
  • Do we discuss sensitive topics with each other or do we keep a safe distance? Do we openly share with each other when we feel certain team behavior or decisions are not in line with our individual values and ethics?
  • How do I share our company’s vision, values, and strategy with the team? How well is the team aligned with the vision, values, and strategy? Are there different interpretations around the table? Do I know these?
  • Do we tend to show agreement rather than alignment focus in our meetings? How do I stimulate alignment focus?
  • Are our meetings spending more time on information sharing and operational details than on driving accomplishments? How do I stimulate the latter?
  • Are we committed to each other’s success? How do I stimulate co-ownership?
  • What are the things I can do to increase the level of team alignment?

How do you create alignment in cross-cultural environments? What is the level of alignment in your team? What questions would you add to the list above? Please share your ideas and thoughts with me.

In Part 3 of this series I will talk about another important element of cross-cultural alignment: organizational alignment.

This post is a brief abstract based on my keynote called ‘Is Your Leadership Compass Pointing in the Right Direction?’, a condensed and energizing program designed for leaders who face the challenges of leading cross-cultural organizations and teams. If you would like to know more about this program don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Aad is an international business advisor, business transformation expert, leadership team facilitator and executive coach. He works with executives and leadership teams of multinational companies and focuses specifically on four topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, ‘post-merger integration’, and ‘amplifying business performance’. Find out more about Aad and his services. Feel free to contact Aad for more information.

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Filed under: Business Transformation, Cross Cultural Teams, Cultural Integration, Culture Change, High Performance Teams, Leadership, Leadership Alignment, Leadership Skills, Organization Development, People Skills Tagged: business environments, Cross-Cultural Leadership, Cross-Cultural Teams, Emerging markets, Intercultural Leadership, Leadership, Leading Teams, Management, Multinational corporation, team alignment, Teamwork