Monday, April 27, 2015

Alignment vs Agreement

verb: agree; 3rd person present: agrees; past tense: agreed; past participle: agreed; gerund or present participle: agreeing
  1. 1
    have the same opinion about something; concur.
    • approve of (something) with regard to its moral correctness.
      "I'm not sure I agree with abortion"
  2. 2
    consent to do something that has been suggested by another person.

verb: align; 3rd person present: aligns; past tense: aligned; past participle: aligned; gerund or present participle: aligning
  1. 1
    place or arrange (things) in a straight line.
    "gently brush the surface to align the fibers"
    synonyms:line up, put in order, put in rows/columns, straightenplacepositionsituatesetrange
    "the desks are aligned in straight rows"
    • put (things) into correct or appropriate relative positions.
      "the fan blades are carefully aligned"
    • lie in a straight line, or in correct relative positions

Agreement is less helpful than we think

Agreeing and blaming

I have been pairing with another coach, in a high dependency environment, to help create a team phenomenon, a partnership, within a team of teams. A phenomenon we have observed is the how the need for agreement tends to slow conversation and cause partnership to deteriorate.

The initial place the teams operated from was trying to get the other team(s) to agree with them. These conversations were quite painful and not very productive. Trying to get agreement was leading to one group trying to convince the another group that their view was the right view.


noun: dissonance; plural noun: dissonances
  1. lack of harmony among musical notes.
    "an unusual degree of dissonance for such choral styles"
    • a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.

Outcomes of agreements tend to be contract like. I will give you X if you give me Y with these caveats. There are plenty of outs if one side did not meet the contract exactly. There is no commitment.

Agreement tends to bring a dissonance, in the conversation, when their are break downs. When break downs occur, i.e. people's intentions are being thwarted, one group is trying to "fix" the other group. The discussion sounds like "it should not be this way" or "it should be this way". As a group they are unable to deal with what is happening. Instead on an inquiry into what is happening, blame and excuse exists.

Alignment is an interesting distinction to agreement

Alignment and committing

As we introduced the idea of partnership and listening for what it takes to meet another teams concerns, agreement started to disappear. Teams would have discussions that started with what do you need to know to be ready to do this. It started with an inquiry into the feature. The inquiry would then go back and forth. Often a team member would take information from one team and start walking through the steps it implied and finally just stop and go, "ahh I get it".


noun: resonance; plural noun: resonances
  1. 1
    the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.
    "the resonance of his voice"
    • the ability to evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.

Alignment looks like resonance, deep, full and reverberating. All concerns are out and everyone is clear the direction we are headed will fully deal with them.  The attitude is, we can make this happen and it leaves space for an authentic commitment, despite any complexities.

Teams in this stage trend away from excuses and blame when things do not go as expected. Teams at this stage understand that breakdowns will happen and they can look at what is happening and where they are intending to go and deal with the break down versus blame someone for it.

Give it a try

Why not try coming to alignment instead of getting agreement the next time you need to work with someone.

Instead of trying to convince them to agree with you, inquire into what their concerns are. Listen and look for possibilities to deal with those concerns. When all parties concerns are on the table and it is clear everyone is committed to meeting those concerns, observe what happens to the conversation.

Notice your own ability to deal with others concerns. Can you be with them and deal with them or do you simply explain why they are wrong?

As with all inquiry, you will learn more about yourself than anything else.

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