Teaching the Mission: Helping Your Team Understand and Achieve Alignment

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.” — Brian Tracy, American motivational speaker and writer.

Teaching the MissionIn 2001, energy company Enron self-destructed in a scandal that still amazes those of us who witnessed it. Despite the core values literally carved into the façade of its Houston headquarters—Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence—top executives completely lost track of their company’s official Mission and Vision. Instead, they focused on feathering their own nests and defrauding stakeholders to the tune of billions of dollars.

As a leader, you can’t allow anything like that to happen on your watch. Your organization’s Mission (as rooted in shared core values) must be in lockstep with Execution within your team or group, with the intervening elements of Vision, Strategy, and Tactics falling naturally into line along the way. This requires a self-sustaining, self-sufficient attitude, both shared and individual, that focuses beyond personal needs to the needs of the organization. After all, it doesn’t matter how well an individual worker does if the company falls apart around them.

The Path to Fulfillment

As engineer and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller once pointed out, “None of the world’s problems will have a solution until the world’s individuals become thoroughly self-educated.” In a perfect world, everyone on your team would instinctively understand this. They would self-educate themselves on the value of linking Mission and Execution in a single inevitable process. But in the real world, that’s not how most people think. Your job as a leader is to instill this value in them so thoroughly it becomes second nature, and then you help them stay on track once they’ve adopted it. As with so many other things, your leadership role here involves priming the pump and then getting out of the way.

Who knows? You may even inspire your own “Bucky” Fuller. Fuller himself was a true visionary, although his vision had a rather rocky start. Ironically, he had difficulty understanding geometry in an abstract sense as a child, unable to grasp how dots and lines on a chalkboard represented reality. He did, however have a talent for practical geometry, often building things from items scavenged in the woods near his home.

He went on to become a celebrated architect, engineer, systems theorist, and designer, and we probably know him best for his invention of the geodesic dome—pretty impressive for someone who had trouble understanding geometry as a kid. In 1927, he overcame severe depression by deciding to embark on life as an experiment, to see how much he could do to change the world. The quintessential self-educator, in his time he invented many things, most involving transportation and housing.

How you can help your people take on Fuller’s experiment in self-education at the team alignment level?

1. Clearly communicate the organization’s core values and mission. Don’t make team members guess or look them up on their own. Let them know exactly where the organization is coming from and where it needs to go. Help them tie the mission to the tasks they complete every day; sometimes this continuum isn’t always apparent.

2. Tell them why their work matters. I can’t say this too often: if you want to engage and empower your employees, tell them why their work matters and how it moves the organization forward. Otherwise, why should they ever look beyond their paychecks?

3. Remind them it’s a team effort. Individual alignment is wonderful, but you can increase your productivity by an order of magnitude if everyone interlocks as a solid team.

4. Fill in the blanks. Where do they not feel capable? Where is more training needed? Encourage your team members to look at their daily work and “fill in the blanks” in areas they aren’t able to translate goals to operations. Tell them to take the initiative, raise their hands, and ask for the help they need to be more valuable to the marketplace, the organization, and the team.

5. Step back and let them go. Workers can’t teach themselves anything if you don’t pull off the training wheels, stop pushing, and let them take off on their own. They may skin a metaphorical knee here or there, but they’ll soon learn to think for themselves. This will leave you time to do your own work as they grow into better, more well-rounded employees.

Hands Off!

Once you’ve instilled the value of self-education on Mission/Execution into your employees, just monitor their progress and nudge them back into place as necessary. Teach the mission and start the ball rolling. If you do it right, it’ll never stop.

That’s how I see it, anyway. On the other hand, maybe I’ve been making far too big a deal about the importance of alignment between Mission and Execution lately. Do you have an experience, agreeable or contrary, you’d like to share? Lay it on us!

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