Efficiently Building Alignment for Async Remote Teams
December 16, 2020
According to a Forbes article on workplace alignment, “employee alignment means different things to different people. To some, it means getting everyone on the same page. To others, it means looking at the bigger picture and understanding everyone’s role within it. Either way, good employee alignment is essential to helping employees stay focused and maximizing profits for your company.”
These two ways of understanding alignment are both crucial to the success of an organization. I would argue that these two different ways of conceiving alignment—align—directly with your position. To an employee, being on the same page as everyone should be your focus when it comes to alignment. For leadership and management, understanding everyone’s role and how they fit into the bigger picture should be your focus.
While it may seem easy to make sure everyone understands what their job is and what their weekly tasks and top priorities for the next quarter are, workplace alignment can be overlooked as a priority. Knowing how everything fits together — as an employee, where you fit into the giant grandfather clock of a company — helps in myriad ways. Let’s dive deeper, pull apart the gears of this big metaphorical clock, and discuss alignment on both fronts.
Alignment = Getting Everyone on the Same Page
As a productive team member of any organization, you need to know:
- What your work is
- What underperforming looks like
- And what achievement looks like
Even better, you would have a solid understanding of the why behind it all.
One way to stay aligned is by reminding teams how daily tasks, minutiae of work, tie directly to larger goals. Bring this to the forefront by celebrating small wins. An incredibly effective way to do just that is through using a new communication platform called Voodle.
Voodle is an asynchronous video platform that allows team members to record, send and watch 60 second videos. Imagine a short video of a manager celebrating how the last sale of the day pushed towards the quarterly goal. Or a reminder that the new training materials your co-worker just finished will accelerate the ramp-up process, ensuring more productive workdays for everyone. For an async team with proper checks and balances, all work moves the entire organization closer to its BHAGs. (aka. Big Hairy Audacious Goals, coined by Jim Collins in Built to Last)
In a well functioning asynchronous work ecosystem, it all ties together, it’s just not always easy to see. Clarity on why this leads to that, and therefore gets us closer to the big goal, yields more organizational alignment. Additionally, when employees know their work contributes to something greater, they’re naturally more motivated and report higher workplace satisfaction.
It’s All About Communication
For efficient alignment, tying work back to the mission is huge. The way you’ll do that successfully is by communicating well and often. For an async team, communication, in general, is your greatest tool for building deep and long-lasting alignment. Communicate, communicate again, then over-communicate on purpose.
Before we even get into what you can do at work in terms of over-communicating, first be sure this quality is ingrained and sought-after in your talent recruitment. For a remote async team, consider those qualities and characteristics that allow individuals to thrive in this type of dispersed, virtual work environment. Of all the qualities out there, being a “super-communicator” has to be at the top of the list. If you build a remote team who is determined to communicate clearly, openly, and consistently, greater overall alignment will be the fruit that bears months and years after you thoughtfully planted this seed into your hiring process.
Along with hiring well, one crucial piece of pursuing over-communication is to document everything. For example, in each weekly one-on-one call, there should be an agenda with a running note recording what was discussed and what the post-call action steps are. That way, on the following call when someone says “oh, it wasn’t clear to me I was supposed to have finished that project this week,” you can respond— ”well, we have it recorded here under “action steps” in the agenda.” After a single exchange like that, you can bet fewer things will fall through the cracks and the overall alignment will tighten. When it’s tight enough, you won’t be able to see the cracks at all.
Actionable Ideas for Building Alignment in an Async Remote Setting
There are a lot of aspects, like those discussed above, that add up to overall alignment, but let’s take a minute to focus on a few fairly simple ideas that you can easily implement. These are ways for async teams to help bring alignment to everyday work. Alignment doesn’t happen overnight, but implementing any of these actionable ideas will certainly help you build towards that ultimate goal of a perfectly harmonized grandfather clock—ready to ring on time today, tomorrow, and years into the future.
1. Starting a Brainstorm Voodle Channel or Shared Doc
Brainstorming together as a team is one of the most noticeable workday moments that our new remote work future has made more challenging. Putting ideas on the virtual table during a video call can be great if your team is all online together, but that’s not always possible. When working asynchronous, a key part of your iteration and ideation process should be an async recording tool—either an async video platform like Voodle or even something as simple as a shared doc.
Whenever and wherever your team members are—if they have a lightbulb moment, they’ll be able to get it down. With Voodle, they can simply jump up, turn their phone around, and hit record. Your team can capture all of these moments of inspiration in real-time. This helps not only with catching those flash ideas and moments of inspiration, but it helps with alignment as your team members will be able to see everyone contributing towards solving the bigger puzzle.
2. Keeping Open Office Hours
As a manager, have “Open Office Hours” set up across various time-zones so that anyone from your remote team can hop in a video call. Maybe they want to clarify something, ask something, or excitedly share a new thought, so create a safe space to allow for those things on their own time. Setting themes for these office hours (i.e. Come discuss the new product launch) can be a great way to make sure they’re always productive and focused. As a bonus, you should receive fewer one-off sporadic questions in email and slack, as everyone will know they can keep a list to bring to your office hours to discuss virtually for a few minutes, saving you both a 20 message exchange over the course of an entire day.
3. Developing a Team Charter
You might have a mission statement or a set of values as an organization—but, this is different. The Charter is something developed with buy-in from the team, for specifically the purpose of clarity and alignment. If you want to make it a rule that video is always on during team calls (outside of emergencies) or no emails after 7pm, that is what the charter is for. It’s the work details that directly impact the team. The Charter is basically a set of guidelines that can be adjusted and/or added to every quarter. When everyone has contributed to, agreed on, and maybe even signed a set of guidelines as a part of a charter, your alignment immediately becomes more streamlined. You might even start to impress the soldiers of Buckingham palace.
Alignment & The Big Picture
Each member of any well-oiled machine (a grandfather clock in our metaphor) should know exactly what their piece of the puzzle is, how it contributes to making sure things run smoothly (or on time as it were) and how they can go above and beyond.
One way to ensure that everyone knows what their work is and how it impacts the big picture is to focus on the outputs instead of the inputs. As a manager, would you rather know:
- Your team member was online for 6 hours today
- Or that fifty customer questions were answered, three sales were made, and/or a report was completed.
It’s hard to know exactly what folks are doing moment to moment (inputs) in a remote async work environment. So, don’t spend too much thought on it! Focus on what you can control and measure—the outputs, KPIs and goals you establish as top priority work. One great way to record and communicate what was accomplished each week is to start a Voodle channel. Try a “Top 3 Outputs” channel then have each team member submit regular updates on measurable things they were able to get done.
Leadership Moving Forward
As ClickUp puts it in their article about alignment, “Are your employees getting their work done? Is your team meeting its objectives? If so, there’s no reason to require remote team members to account for where and how they spent every minute of their days.” So, focus on the quantifiable elements of each role and the big picture becomes clear. Focus on wanting to know “what everyone is doing all day” and your grandfather clock will be lost at sea.
Leadership, or the clock-maker, needs to know exactly where each gear, screw, and doodad fits into the big picture. This includes the quarterly, yearly, and 5-year vision. They need to know where precisely to improve the process, increase efficiency, and change out or combine certain pieces. Focusing on alignment across all of the organization’s teams and respective members will bring the future vision into focus. Let’s tighten the nuts and bolts, and get your clock running like a well-oiled machine. I can almost feel the alignment improving already—DING-DONG!
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