Signs of Alignment
This is a post in my alignment series. See the introductory post Finding Alignment for more context.
I really want to dig into some topics related to building alignment and figuring out when you're aligned as a contributor, or when the people you're working with are falling out of alignment with you and/or your team or organization, but I think it's worth it to start slow and chew on a big question: What it feels like when you and your team are well aligned, and why that's a good thing.
To my mind, when you have a foundation of alignment, and an understanding of what the business goals are for your organization, then it becomes really easy to work independently, because you know what's important, you know what needs to happen next and the people your working for/with can be confident that you'll be moving in the right direction, and don't need to do as much monitoring. Every so often, teams find this, and can really grind on it and deliver great features and products on the basis of this. It takes a long time (months!) for a team to gel like this, and sometimes teams don't quite get there.
This isn't to say that needing more guidance and wokring less independently means that you're unaligned just that you (or the people you're working with/for) are newer to the team, or there's been a change recently and everyone needs more touch points to build alignment. One of the risks of hiring people and growing teams that are really well aligned is that the change in team dynamic can throw off alignment, and I think this is one of the reasons that teams sometimes struggle to grow. In any case, while alignment is great and it doesn't happen for free, and it's fine for it to be a thing you're working on.
Alignment also reduces a lot of potentially contentious conversations and interactions: when you have alignment within a team or between teams you have a framework for prioritizing decisions: the most possible things that have the largest positive impact on the goals that you have are more important than... everything else. It all ends up being pretty simple. Sometimes you have to spend a bit of time on something that's locally lower priority if another team depends on it, or if you're helping someone learn something, but for the most part alignment helps you move toward the right direction.
When teams (and contributors) lack alignment, it's easy for low priority work to get done, or projects that don't end up supporting the business goals and so fail to find use (projects fail for other reasons, some of which are expected, so failed projects don't necessarily indicate miss-alignment). An unaligned team can end up competing with peer teams and internal collaborators. If some parts of a team or organization are well aligned and other's aren't, resentment and frustration can brew between teams. Basically, without alignment you can--if you're lucky--skate by with a little wasted effort, but often alignment deficits are a blight that can threaten a team's ability to be productive and make it really hard to retain great team members.
Not everything is an alignment problem: teams and projects fail for technical or logistical reasons. Sometimes conflicts emerge between collaborators who are well aligned but working on disconnected projects, or hold different concerns within a project. Alignment is a framework for understanding how organizations can move together and be productive particularly as they grow, and in this I hope that this has been helpful!