In business, the concept of alignment strategy is about breaking down silos inside organizations and establishing cross-functional workflows without inhibiting anyone’s domain expertise.
“It’s often straightforward to identify a strategy needed to achieve a goal, but what trips up companies is figuring out how to execute the strategy once identified,” saws Cal Newport in his book Deep Work.
What is easy. It’s the how part that’s hard.
To appreciate the subtle nuances of putting alignment into practice, compare for a moment the art of jazz improvisation and the individual sport of tennis.
Jazz combos are completely collaborative.
Artists take their turn improvising solos, but in keeping with the agreed arrangement and the guard rails of the melody.
Jazz musicians jam, harmonize and gig. They have instrumental conversations and trade rhythms.
Jazz bands aren’t about winners or losers. Like any good marketing department, they play a collective groove.
Tennis, on the other hand, is highly competitive.
Tournament players endeavor to crush their competition.
They don’t just want to win. They want to kill.
Its war to the last point with a clear winner and a loser, and they use combat words like battle and shot to embellish their conquests.
Sales reps play to close and tennis players compete to win.
Solos, not Silos
But jazz and tennis are also alike in many ways.
They’re both individual pursuits enjoyed in the company of others.
And for both, mastery requires intense practice and conditioning, much of it in isolation.
Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.
A budding jazz musician learns to sight read music alone for hours.
Similarly, the most important shot in tennis, the serve, and the extraordinary physical conditioning required, are the solitary pursuits of the tennis player.
Analyzing customer map data and closing new business both require isolation and focus.
While competition drives peak performance, healthy competition makes it safe to fail.
Players that find their flow and stay in the present without fear can rise to new levels of match play.
And jazz combos that feature simultaneous improvisations (that sound like competing solos to the novice ear) are considered to be among the most art form’s most innovative by true aficionados.
Unhealthy competition is when Alec Baldwin says to his sales reps in the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired.”
If it’s unsafe to fail, it’s unsafe to innovate. Athletes who play to win usually defeat the ones who play not to lose. You can’t play to win unless you can overcome the fear of loss, and that’s tough if you’re worried about getting fired.
Alignment strategy brings cross-functional team members together to jam and solo, but not at the expense of weakening the domain expertise that sales, marketing and customer success professionals must bring to the table as teams and individuals.