Pull Alignment vs. Push Alignment

When you work in a team, alignment is critical. Any group working together should be on the same page regarding where they are heading and where they are at, at a minimum. However, when alignment is the objective of meeting after meeting and email after email, something is wrong. For a discussion to be meaningful, alignment should be the starting point, not its goal. 

So, how can we create alignment without making it the point of numerous interactions? The answer is moving from push alignment to pull alignment. 

Push alignment is the typical method of synchronizing everyone on where we are and where we are heading. The most common manifestation of push alignment is a recurrent status meeting, or a status report shared via email. When the sole purpose of such an interaction is to align everyone, it is ineffective by definition. First, such interactions typically involve people who don’t really need it. Some of them might already know the content being shared, and to others, it might not be relevant, or it might be out of context. Second, while we want every interaction to help us progress toward a predefined goal, alignment does not create real progress.

There are cases where we can’t avoid push alignment, but when we fall back to the push method week after week, we waste the time and energy of most people involved. Creating the setup for pull alignment is a more sustainable way to synchronize everyone.

In pull alignment, we make sure the relevant information, data, and insights are accessible to anyone who needs them when they need them. We ensure the information is well organized and that anyone who looks for something specific can easily find it. We obviously don’t want everyone to waste valuable time trying to find information. We must also avoid a setup that makes different people see partial pieces of the picture and come up with the wrong conclusions. Pull alignment is about having one source of truth that enables stakeholders to take what they need and continue processing it to generate their own insights. These insights will typically be the input to a meaningful discussion that creates movement. 

The simplest example of pull alignment is creating a shared dashboard reflecting the status based on information pulled from various resources. When team members need to know whether they or their colleagues are about to meet upcoming milestones or what the most pressing issues are, they can access the information from that dashboard. Adding insights from the Project Manager, for example, could help align the team on what is really important and point them to the relevant data. 

Creating such a setup is not trivial, but typically, it will be a one-time effort compared to the continuous waste of time and energy of having weekly (sometimes daily) status meetings just to provide the same type of data and insights. 

Of course, for pull alignment to work, it has to be part of the communication contract with the team. People should know they are expected to pull information and use it to help them create progress. Still, they can do that on their own terms. They decide when they need the information and what information is needed. 

Will that work 100% of the time? Unlikely. But it will work most of the time and save significant time, energy, and frustration — the inevitable outcome of participating in numerous conversations that don’t create real progress.

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