Yesterday when I drove my daughter Anna to her school, we witnessed a massive flock of birds. Thousands of them gliding through the air with no apparent sense of direction, urgency, or planning.
As we (or predominantly Anna, because I was driving) were admiring the formations and the graciousness of their moves, we started wondering out loud.
How do they decide where they go?
Who gets to determine the direction?
Who’s the leader anyway, and why is she the leader?
Anna and I are both no bird experts, so much is probably clear by now, but our unfamiliarity with bird practices created a good conversation.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
As we continued to wonder how these birds organized themselves and made the decisions of which we saw the consequences in the air, suddenly the flock broke up into three smaller groups.
“Bird politics”, Anna said.
I glanced at her from my driving seat with question marks in my eyes.
Anna explained that anarchy had emerged inside the flock, and some birds decided to move in different directions.
“They were fed up with their self-proclaimed leader and the apparent lack of direction, so they decided to go their own ways”.
We both laughed about her observation.
After I dropped Anna off, I started to reflect on the conversation. I liked her term ‘bird politics’ and thought it would make for a nice story.
The need for alignment
There are many analogies inside this story, and the one I’d like to stress is the need for alignment.
When a business or a team is truly aligned about its goals and how to execute these goals, its performance comes across as seamless to the outsider.
Like the movements of a flock of birds.
All the different parts do their job, and the result is elegance, synergy, energy, and excellence.
But what seems to come naturally to a flock of birds requires a lot of conversation, disagreement, patience, practice, learning, decision making, and execution when it concerns human beings.
We don’t often get to see true alignment. Because we don’t take the time to pause, get aligned, and leave ego’s outside the door.
Whether you like sports or not, if you’d like to see true alignment by human beings at work, watch a pit stop at a formula one race.
In less than 3 seconds, four tires get exchanged.
The record is close to 2 seconds. Those 2 seconds result from clear goals, clear roles and responsibilities, hours and hours of practice, and ego’s parked outside for a while. One little mistake, and the time shoots up to 10, 20 seconds.
Every person knows exactly what to do. Without hesitation or objection. That happens during the conversation and practice phase.
When it comes to alignment in business, we leave things up for chance too often.
We all have our examples when we were not aligned.
But continued anyway.
Because the time was missing to get fully aligned. Or the consequences were not significant enough.
The difference between a formula one pit crew that is aligned and a crew not aligned is many seconds, and in this case, it can make the difference in win or loss.
That’s why great companies and teams spend hours to get aligned.
So if you wonder why certain (executive) teams meet often and you think less would do as well, think again.
They’re investing time to get aligned, ensuring things get done with grace.
Like a flock of birds.
When you go outside today, find a flock of birds and just watch. It’s magic.
And if you can’t make the time, click this link and watch a one minute video.
Do more of what makes you happy.
PS. This morning when driving Anna to school, we witnessed a flock of birds at precisely the same spot. Nicely grouped together. For now.