One of the biggest takeaways I have had working over the past few years is underscoring the importance and nuance of organizational structure. Strategic alignment, the by-product of a well-thought-out culture, enables teams (and individuals) to reach a higher performance, “minimizing misdirection of effort and resources to clashing or unspecified purposes.” Source 

More simply put, teams are more productive when everyone is marching in a similar direction. Alignment unlocks “compounding value,” where individual teams can build off of each other…this accelerates momentum and helps companies accomplish more in a shorter period of time. It also prevents stagnation, where teams who cannot communicate or align well often fall to diminishing returns to scale – where they actually become less productive as they add more engineers or employees. 

This type of thinking around “aligning activities and resources” also greatly applies to the individual, myself. I think about this type of question all of the time…how do I unlock potential, drive alignment, and ensure my actions are at least tangentially linked with each other. 

There is value in “diversifying” (like an investor would think), but that only holds true to a certain extent. I am reminded that I am an individual…I really only have one life and a finite set of resources (that are dwindling quickly). I do not have the luxury of a venture capitalist, who can ride the coat-tails of one lucky investment after making thousands of attempts. I can experiment, fail quickly, and test out different things (which I do)…but at the same time I need to balance “dart-throwing” with alignment.

I need progress…not motion.

Life is not a rollercoaster. Rollercoasters end where they start. You want to move to a new direction (forwards or backwards, sure – but somewhere!). 

My “litmus” test for whether I am doing this well occurs in an unexpected place…I like to analyze “what I think about the in the shower” and see whether or not it overlaps with how I spend my time during the day. Or what I think about right before bed…does it match what I get excited about in the morning? Are my dreams my reality? 

These types of questions get at the question of…”what am I excited about? what do I really care about?” And then contrast that with “how am I actually spending my time.” 

The overlap between these two…I hope…remains close. If it gets too far away, I know I will have made a mistake (or at least changed my priorities). 

To return to the original prompt, how do companies (and individuals) stay aligned? I do not think this is a simple question with simple, generic answers. Every company (and person) is unique…has a different context and culture to them. 

I think it is generally a nuanced exercise to figure out what you need to do to become more aligned. You need to get buy-in from different stakeholders. You need to understand individual’s purposes…their fears…their ego…why they do what they do. 

You need to make bets in the right places.

And above all else, in my opinion, you need to be transparent and honest. 

You need to admit failure. You need to fail quickly. But you also need to say when you are going for the home run. And why you are swinging for the fences. And that you are OKAY if you swing and you miss.

Avoiding failure is generally not the goal of a highly productive organization (or individual). The mission is to accelerate an inevitable change…by any means possible…

The only way to actually do that will require some turbulence. You want to lose weight? It will be really hard. Really really hard some nights. You want to build a product for x customer…good luck! 

Acknowledging challenges, and then making an informed, aligned decision is where the real magic happens. You can only skate from the truth for so long. 

Also published on Medium.