During the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, the United States hockey team shocked the entire world by defeating a heavily favored Soviet Union team. The Soviet Union hockey team had won the gold medal for the previous 20 years. Its players were professionals, while the United States team was made up of amateurs, most of whom were college kids. What is not commonly known is the story of how the team, made up of players from all over America, came together as one. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger tell about it in Simple Church.
Herb Brooks, the United States coach, was given the task of getting players who had never played together around the same approach to hockey, and in doing so, maximize the energy from it. During practices Coach Brooks would ask his players, “Who do you play for?” Each player would respond with the name of his college. After a half-hearted performance during one of their exhibit games, he had the players skate, which is hockey’s equivalent to a football team running laps or a basketball team doing suicide runs. During this brutal workout, one of the players yelled out, “I play for the United States of America!” This proved to be a pivotal moment for the team. The players united together and went on to win the gold medal.
Alignment is defined as “the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other.”[i] It is coming together in the way things were meant to be. When things are out of alignment, things do not run as smoothly as they should. Richard McKnight, in Top Team Alignment, says when reviewing whether or not to buy stock, most stock analysts will look at a company’s ability to execute its strategy before examining the quality of the strategy itself.[ii] They base the company’s ability to execute its strategy largely on whether or not there is alignment within the top leaders of the company. The future of the company depends on whether or not there is alignment. Without alignment the possibility of success is greatly diminished.
Alignment matters, and it matters a great deal. It is an absolute must in groups and organizations of all types, whether it be a sports team, a Fortune 500 company, or a church. Alignment is essential in preserving the core values, reinforcing the purpose, and making progress towards the goals and aspirations.[iii]
[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary. “Alignment.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alignment (accessed July 10, 2012).
[iii] Jim Collins. “Aligning with Vision and Values.” Leadership Excellence 23.4 (2006): 6.