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Is Alignment Like Rowing or Kayaking? Yes.

A standard image of organizational alignment is of rowboats going in a straight line down a course. Oars are in the water at the same time. The boat goes straight and fast. Misaligned organizations aren’t always going straight and are working hard just to right themselves.

Is this truly what organizational alignment should look like? On occasions, yes. Plans are set, and there’s agreement with the actions to be taken. Now, it’s time to execute. Rowers put their heads down and row to the rhythm of the coxswain to go as fast as possible.

However, what happens if the water is not smooth and has rapids or the wind is strong? What if there’s a change of course in the river?

Good rowing teams can handle choppy waters and even a stiff cross wind. They’ve trained enough to adjust power delivered from each rower accordingly. This may be where you see less capable rowing teams falter, as in the photo. Rowing teams also only have one person seeing what’s up ahead, the coxswain. Adjustments are much harder.

How often is the water calm and the winds light in your organizations so you can put your blinders on and go straight as fast as you can? This isn’t a consistent reality.

The real business world may be seen more as a river with rapids and big boulders. Aligned organizations in this scenario are like kayaks trying to find the ‘safe’ rapids while avoiding the slow eddies and the boulders that can tip you.

Aligned organizations prepare before getting into such a river to help smooth the ride. Understanding why you are there, what the plan is and how each person’s role will play out helps teams get the most out of the river. Without a plan that all understand and execute, you could end up in places you don’t want to be and can’t get out of. At the least, you could have your kayak be far behind your competition or expectations. Preparation also allows you to adjust to situations that arise you might not have anticipated. The people in the boat are open to what’s happening around and ahead of them and can change course if needed.

It’s easier to see alignment like the rowboats. Aligned organizations, at times, need to row fast and straight. However, the real world offers a much different scenario that forces planning for nuances and training to see the changing conditions and make the proper adjustments.

Can you see when you need to be a rowboat, when you need to be a kayak and whether you are aligned as a team before you get your boat in the water?

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