Get your team aligned by putting yourself in the line of fire

Brent Lowe
7 min readNov 10, 2021

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As the leader of your company, you have a clear vision for what’s next.

You’re a master at transforming ideas into reality.

You move at lightning speed, driven by a deep desire to bring industry-changing innovations to life.

While others are sipping eggnog and recovering from food-induced festive comas, you’re reflecting on business lessons from the past year and envisioning the next.

But how aligned is your team? Did a bit of doubt just creep in?

If you want to erase that doubt for good, here’s how: get comfortable being mocked by your team.

For real? For real. Sometimes leadership warrants a bit of humor at a leader’s expense. After the tension and stress of COVID, a bit of good-natured banter is both welcome and surprisingly beneficial for business.

LET THE MOCKING BEGIN

Communicating well seems like it should be simple. As you’ve experienced, it isn’t. We think we’ve been clear on something, unaware we’ve missed the mark. We lose perspective on what we know and others don’t.

Envision your future-self delivering (what you think is) a compelling presentation. You’ve put much thought into deciding what the team needs to do next. The vision seems clear.

But something is off. As the scene unfolds, you hear whispers.

“I’m not sure what she meant by that?”

“When did he get those new glasses?”

“What did she just say about changes in marketing?”

“That’s a stupid idea.”

“I wonder why Greg isn’t here today?”

“I hope this meeting doesn’t take too long; I need to fetch my cat from the vet.”

And on it goes.

So, how much of your presentation did the team hear? Less than you think. Your team will forget 50% of your message within a week. The missing “puzzle pieces” get filled in with assumptions, interpretations, and gossip. Hello, disappointment, my old friend.

You spent weeks shaping your thinking. You wrestled with data and searched for insights. You took time to engage team members, craft talking points, come up with helpful analogies. And then? You crammed it all into a condensed presentation. Maybe it made sense to you–but your team was left thinking, “Wait, hold up, run that by me again?”

The answer to this challenge seems simple — communicate more! But how much more? You will know the team is aligned when they start mocking you… making fun of you. They finish your sentences. They make jabs about how many times you’ve repeated the same message. All in good fun. It’s then that you know you’ve arrived.

10 Steps to mockery

Each of us takes in information differently. Variety is the spice of life, so make sure your communication has enough seasoning. Find each team member’s flavor preference and stick with what works. For example, some members of your team will benefit most from hearing you speak. Others will prefer to engage in dialogue. Another group will do best by reading about plans. And yet another group will understand your thinking by working through activities.

Before you start communicating, what’s your message? What’s your vision for the future? What are the 3–5 things you want everyone to remember? What shared values should shape each decision? What common purpose are you all working toward? Stick to the basics — short, simple, direct.

Here are ten different ways to engage your team and get their buy-in.

Kick-off meeting

Nobody likes being left in the dark. When there is something new to communicate, hosting a kick-it-off-right meeting ensures the whole team gets the plan straight from the source. Your body language, tone, and word choice speak volumes. Everyone has an equal opportunity to hear the what and the why.

Perhaps there’s a small group of trusted influencers who you need onside. Involve them in the plan creation, take time to ensure they’re aligned and deal with any pushback. Then, when the meeting wraps and that 50% attrition rate kicks in, this will be the group that helps restore the missing puzzle pieces.

Team meetings

Team meetings are an excellent tool for finding out where people are at and where clarification or further dialogue may be needed. Sometimes questions aren’t appropriate or relevant to the whole organization. Smaller team meetings allow you to re-iterate the plan through a lens that is meaningful to each team.

Ask the team what they took away from the larger meeting. Did they hear what you were hoping they would?

One-on-one-meetings

Want to know if the key parts of your message hit the communication sweet spot? Hone in by starting every one-on-one meeting with a question about the plan. This approach is effective in group meetings too. What you’re looking for in the one-on-one context is shared understanding on an individual level. If they get stuck or can’t answer the question, no worries. You’ve just uncovered an opportunity to get someone aligned.

Email or blog

Don’t expect a message to sink in for every team member after a single exposure. Instead, your team will likely need to read the plan, in multiple communication formats, over an extended period for it to take root.

Do a quick mental check… how many times have you written to your team this year about the plan? Have you reminded them what the goal is? Have you given them enough detail about why you put the plan into action in the first place? Periodically and intentionally reminding the team that you are still focused on the same things can breathe new life into the plan.

Make the plan visible

No, it’s not cheesy to have your values on the wall. There’s a reason that the most successful companies plaster their physical and digital spaces with reminders of what’s most important. It works! Flex that creativity and find ways to make the plan visual and available to your team. Consider tracking results on a big whiteboard that everyone can see. Sprinkle it into your communication tools. Carry the thread through your documents and email templates. See it, be it–make it come alive!

Through others

One lone voice can easily get lost in the cacophony of daily life. If you are the only one communicating the message, the chance of it being heard, let alone spreading, is slight. Why? You’re not omnipresent. It would help if you had a team of people amplifying the message. Internalizing the message and making it part of your organization’s DNA is an intentional, multi-person process. Board members, leaders, new joiners–everyone has a role to play.

Exercises

Consider the experiences that shaped your thinking. How did you come up with the plan? Did you read a ton? Did you pour through data and spreadsheets? Maybe you had illuminating conversations with intelligent and experienced people. You probably considered the pros and cons of different options. Could you recreate some of these experiences for your team? Think of how to lead them through a journey similar to the one you went on.

You could suggest they read an article you found insightful and then discuss it and compare observations. How about inviting someone who shaped your thinking to share insights with the team? Crunching numbers or looking at different scenarios and their financial implications could also be a helpful learning experience.

Random check-ins

Want to crank that “mock me” dial up a notch? Ask people to respond to questions at the water cooler, as you step into the elevator or at the end of a virtual meeting. What are our values? What’s our revenue target for the year? How many new customers do we need to add this year? How many have we added so far?

It’s not a “gotcha” moment. The purpose is not to make people feel uncomfortable if they don’t know the answer. It’s an opportunity for you to coach and inform your team. Have fun with it–and encourage your team members to tap into their sense of humor. If your team starts avoiding you and fearing your impromptu questions, reread the last sentence. Be creative about finding the fun!

Over food

Food and drinks have a way of making conversations feel more natural. You can tap into a different headspace by connecting with a small group to talk about the plan over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks. Preventing the plan from going off the rails and addressing team concerns starts by understanding where people are pushing back. Getting to the bottom of misunderstandings or active resistance to the plan can be easily achieved through casual conversation. Get curious. Invite debate. Encourage the group to challenge the program.

Search out the doubters

It’s essential to keep your antenna up for doubters among the group. When you find them, get curious and investigate their doubts. They may have feelings or thoughts they need to vent, and that’s ok. Listen to those thoughts without judgment. Understand where they’re at.

Does this person have a good reason to be a doubter? Have you communicated your what and why clearly, or is there room for improvement? If that doubt persists, are they still willing to follow along? Or is it time for them to move on to an organization where they feel more goal-aligned?

Getting your message across is a case of rinse and repeat. Success lies in repetition, repetition, and more repetition. If you want to position your team for success, your mock-o-meter may need dialled up. Does your team alignment feel off? Then it’s time to get to work. Schedule some breakfast meetings, pick up the phone, get a sense of where people are at.

If you’ve succeeded in getting your message out, what worked for you? Are you being mocked yet? What are your top tips for getting into that communication sweet spot? Leave a message below and share your story.

I help Founder CEOs of companies between 5 & 40 people who are experiencing early stage success and ready to scale — especially those wanting to build shared responsibility and accountability within their team. Click here to get your free copy of the 5 principles and 6 leadership roles for scaling a sustainable, prosperous company.

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Brent Lowe

The Scale Coach for Founder CEOs and co-author of Lead Together: The bold, brave, intentional path to scaling your business