“A Man Feeding Swans in the Snow” by Marcin Ryczek

Systemic Alignment for Teams

Systemic Alignment for Teams and the importance of rituals to drive team performance, commitent and creative resourcefulness

Last years my work has really concentrated on the practice of providing clarity to especially entrepreneurial and innovative teams on things like their mission, their values, their roles, their (relative) position to their surroundings and their journey. It’s the work I absolutely love to do. I love to encounter new teams, sit with them and figure out what the team is all about and define many of these still abstract words to have their path emerge. A clear path is the foundation of every team and every individual in a team. In a world that is as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous as ours has become it is increasingly more important to continuously invest in re-aligning yourself to the path. It is easy to get lost in the drama and distractions of everyday life. It is this realization that really triggered me to dedicate the next chapter of my life to supporting teams to (re)find their “path”.

The Way of The Path: Systemic Alignment (SA)

Finding your path as a team is what I call SA. It is the body of knowledge, practices and tools that support teams in the proces of balancing, centering and aligning themselves to the path. I ofcourse use Teamily in this process but every week I find new methods, tools and practices that support me in my work of doing SA. Next to helping teams hands-on, I also develop their skills to do SA work themselves.

The hard part of SA is that the subject(team member or team) actually needs to change their relative position to their context. It is one thing to know that you are not aligned. It is a complete other to actually reprogram yourselves and re-align. It is not something that is solved by thinking about your specific context.

SA requires you to go through a transformative experience. The key word here is experience. You need to have witnessed it in order to have this lasting imprint. There are several ways to deliver such a transformative experience. Organisational Constellations or Teamdriver are great ways to “reprogram” teams. Teams working on projects that last for months or even years need to invest in SA sessions. In these sessions there is room to represent the team’s current situation, check if all the “chess pieces” are still in the right place, move pieces if needed and set it back “in stone” for when the team gets back into operations. It is like with the top image of the man feeding the swans. The team can identify themselves as the swans being fed by the man(the corporation) or they identify themselves with the man doing the feeding(to the customers). It all is a matter of agreed and shared perspective. The difficult part is to transform the team from the image of the swan into the image of the man. With my company Teamily we have done hundreds of these sessions with great result.

A pre-emptive way for corporations to increase SA is by incorporating team rituals. Rituals offer a clear structure for teams that works like calibration tools. Teams can calibrate themselves through rituals. They know what they are and where they are in a meaningful and agreed way.

Rituals: Ceremonies of Alignment

Our lives used to be filled with meaningful rituals. As we lost more and more our faith in the institutions that these rituals were connected to we also lost the appreciation of the ritual itself . Rituals are beautiful expressive ways to show that the order or relation has changed. They need to be witnessed in order to be true. They also need all parties to actively show willingness to play their part. A ritual therefor cannot be enforced. It creates a contract between parties. For example a contract between “operation” and “innovation”. It shows mutual dependency of each other.

Accolade (1901), by Edmund Leighton

In today’s corporate environment we lack many rituals that support fundamental shifts in loyalty, role, function or priority. These are some of the key problems when we talk about teams in relation to projects. If there are rituals inside the organisation, they are usually designed around the project. For example the project needs to pass through a stage. The spotlight is on the project not the team. As long as there are no rituals for people and teams it will be impossible to generate commited and performing teams. In a world where the outcome of a project is increasingly often unknown we need to acknowledge the importance of teams much much more. An effective way to this is by introducing team specific rituals.

Does your company have a ritual of promotion? Are the employees witnessing this ritual? What ritual is there when a project team dissolves? Is there a ritual if a team is formed? Is this team “blessed” by the company? These are fundamental systemic changes that need to be made explicit and shared by the group. These rites of passage keep everybody on the same page. It makes clear where the team stands without needing to look at any org chart. Designing these rituals into the fabric of the organisation will increase employee engagement, commitment and the creative resourcefulness of team members. Rituals are often a forgotten element in organisational design. Yet a very practical and fitting tool for organisations that aspire to become more Teal.

Let me give you a couple of examples of rituals you can start implementing right away that already will support teams tremendously in the field of SA.

Ritual of “Answering the Call”

Answering the Call is a direct reference to the Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell. The Call is the challenge that is presented to the team. They are literally called out. The team themselves need to step up and show that they are prepared to work on the challenge. It’s like the moment Arthur steps up to the rock to pull the sword out of the rock. It is the rock that represents the corporation and Excalibur that represents the project. The right team will get the project they deserve.

Ritual of “Getting on stage”

This the moment you “get on stage”. The moment the team really needs to deliver output. They need to be totally in the moment. Present and performing. Receiving the applause.. or not. This is the moment the team really publicly identify themselves with the product. This is the moment that “the show must go on”. Everybody needs to do their part. Often it requires to leave the comfort of the office and get “into the woods”. Moving into unknown terrains without the possibility to turn back or say “can we reset?”. A crucial stage to get into from my experience. It is this moment where commitment is really tested. Did the team just “make a sword”(product/solution) or are they also willing to get out there and “kill the dragon”(goal)? With the right rituals the whole team knows that they went from behind the curtain to the place in the spotlight.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” - Joseph Campbell

There is a huge opportunity to improve TEAM ROI by giving attention to SA. If you are interested to discover how SA and/or rituals can improve the performance of your teams please send me a message on raimovanderklein@gmail.com

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