#12: The art of alignment

A recipe for keeping your team connected as its grows

alignment.jpeg

My biggest fear is that we’ll all drift apart.

In Civilla’s early days, maintaining alignment was effortless. Back then the entire organization fit around a lunch table. As a tiny team focused on a single project, alignment was simply a byproduct of the time we spent together.

Over time, our team has grown and our business matured. With each new teammate it gets harder to keep everyone on the same page. But it also becomes more important.

Amidst growth, many organizational leaders have suggested we adopt solutions like a strategic roadmap, organizational score cards, and monthly all-hands meetings to keep the team in sync.

While not unimportant, these solutions felt heavy. We feared that they would become more focused on process rather than on people.

Instead, we decided to double down on a tradition that began long before Civilla even landed its first contract. We call it Re:tool.

Re:tool is a quarterly celebration dedicated to reflection, realignment, and renewal. At the end of each season we take a day or two to celebrate the accomplishments of the past few months and prepare for the upcoming season.

Re:tool has successfully kept our team aligned and connected for more than three years, even as our work has grown more complex. So in honor of having just celebrated our 13th consecutive Re:tool, we’re sharing our recipe for how you, too, can host a Re:tool for your team.

Here’s how…

retool.jpeg

A Recipe for Re:tool

Answers to your most important questions

  • Who coordinates Re:tool? There should be at least one person who is responsible for setting the stage for a successful Re:tool. They’ll be on the hook for finding a comfortable space for reflection, planning meals, and sequencing the activities.

  • Who participates in Re:tool? Your team, however you define it. We’ve found 4–8 people seem to be the upper and lower bounds of a good Re:tool.

  • When does Re:tool happen? At Civilla, we celebrate Re:tool by dedicating 1–2 full days for reflection at the end of every season. Your team could find a different frequency, though we’d encourage you to host Re:tool on a consistent rhythm.

  • Where do we Re:tool? We’ve found Re:tool is a holiday best celebrated in a teammate’s home. Getting out of the studio/office and squeezing into a living room helps sets a tone for personal reflection and meaningful conversations.

  • Are there important rules for Re:tool? The most important rule is to carve out time and space to be present with each other. This means entering a reflective or celebratory mindset — free from the typical stream of meetings and calls. Disconnecting from email and cell phones allows everyone to feel more present and helps reinforce the importance of connecting as humans, not just as colleagues.

  • What do we do at Re:tool? Re:tool is a time for reflection, restoration, team building, feedback, creating, sharing, and aligning around the organization’s strategic intent. It is best used for non-urgent, but important tasks that easily fall by the wayside during the typical work week.

  • What do we NOT do at Re:tool? Re:tool is not a time for responding to urgent matters. It is not intended to be used for working time, regular team meetings, client calls, or project planning. These matters are best addressed in small teams either before or after Re:Tool.

The Elements of Re:Tool

Activities to consider incorporating as you design your own Re:Tool

While each Re:Tool has it’s own contours, here are the activities that we consistently come back to:

  • Rites of Passage (15 minutes): We officially close up the season with a final reading and analysis of the 10–3–1–3, the document that reflects our strategic intent for the next ten years, three years, one year, and three months. Doing so allows us to collectively reflect on where we’re going and celebrate how much progress we’ve made over the last season. Don’t forget the champagne!

  • The Look Back (45 minutes): We chronicle the team’s accomplishments and experiences by writing each memorable success and failure on individual post-it notes. Then, we film the dramatic re-telling of the season’s narrative (which we save for posterity’s sake). Finally, we have a meaningful discussion about what we’d like to pull forward into the next season, and what we’d like to leave behind.

  • Team Updates (60 minutes): We provide time for each business unit or project team to share out what they’ve been working on. At the end of each presentation the rest of the team has time to follow up with questions. It’s amazing how quickly we all learn about each other’s work.

  • A Shared Meal (90 minutes): We break bread together and enjoy each other’s company. It’s easy to overlook this element of the day but it’s possibly the most important time we spend together at Re:tool. Sometimes we go out to eat together, often we’ll prepare a meal side-by-side. It helps that we have some amazing cooks at Civilla!

  • Team Sport (60 minutes): We exercise together and get our blood pumping. Sometimes we play basketball or soccer, other times we make up a sport of our own. After an hour or two of physical activity we find we arrive with sharper minds for the day ahead.

  • Studio Visits (4–6 hours): We visit another creative studio to get inspired and grow our context about how other teams operate. We’ve blown glass, letter-pressed, made ceramics, and even tried our hand at circus arts. Each studio visit stretches our imagination about how to approach our creative work and collaborate as a small team.

  • Strategic Intent (4 hours): We spend a half day resetting our strategic intent. Based on our team’s reflections, we draft the next version of our 10–3–1–3. This practice helps our team stay aligned for the next season and ensures we stay focused on our longterm mission and vision.

A day or two later, we all return to work with new energy and clarity. It’s the result of a team bonding experience, deep reflection, and new focus on how our short term activities ladder up to our long term goals.

– Adam + the team


Further reading:

  • For an incredible book on how to focus your energy on the things that truly matter the most, get a copy of Essentialism by Greg McKeown

  • To learn about the difference between a strategic plan and strategic intent, take a look at Strategic Intent (HBR) — a quintessential article on the topic by Hamel and Prahalad.

  • If you don’t think you have enough time to Re:tool, here’s a quick read from Fast Company with 5 strategies to carve out more time in your life.



Adam Selzer