Friday, 24 April 2009

Alignment or attunement for large scale change?

(Photo by Goodshoot Photos)

The term "alignment" is often heard in leadership groups, team meeting and in programme documents. Do we mean alignment when we use it?

I came to this question of alignment vs attunement on reading a review on the book "Enterprise-Wide Change; superior results through systems thinking" and the review is here:

Most of us working in the Public Sector and in healthcare will recognise that we are working within living systems. The nature of people interacting, interfacing, creating and constantly altering interdependencies - all creates a perpetually shifting culture - with the consequence of perpetually shifting performance.

Dictionaries suggest the meaning of "alignment" is to arrange to in a straight line or in parallel lines. It is a term that comes from a mechanical and industrial age and is an important one in engineering.

In contrast, "attunement" means to bring into a responsive or harmonious relationship. I like this term. For your large scale change or mechanism to spread good practice, are you conducting a quartet, a 12 piece orchestra, a 120 piece orchestra or even a series of large orchestras all required to play the same tune in different places at the same time? Imagine helping each member of this orchestra to perform their best. They are professionals and know how to tune their instruments, the great music will come from arranging their performance in a way that it harmonious.

How do we lead professional individuals and teams so they use their skills and capabilities to their maximum, yet do so in harmony with others around them? I like to think of the attuning process as including:
  • future orientation; you may call this a vision, it may be a picture of what the future looks like, it may be taking time to feel what the end results needs to be like. An orchestra may listen to a previously recorded version. A programme team may visit a place where similar results have been achieved. It is about creating a collective sense of possibility
  • a high level plan; for the orchestra this is the score. This may look like detail though there will also be a high level interpretation of the score by the conductor. The leader cannot do the playing for someone else, they can only guide their interactions with others, to create the overall result
  • using individual excellence and surrendering this to the collective experience. By this I mean that it is essential for individuals to do their best, to work at their optimum, yet do so as a servant to the group. An individual may have a soloist part, though this is a contribution to the whole and is not the result in itself. In my experience we have many soloists playing well and being praised for their individual achievement with little leadership effort placed on containing these performances

When I am working with individuals, teams, organisations and systems in enabling large scale change my focus is not on seeing them in organised rows, neatly lined up. Instead my aim is to help them identify their tune, make conscious their personal capabilities and to discover ways to build responsive relationships and work in a harmonious way.

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