Alignment Session Guide

Table of Contents

Are your organizational and team goals aligned, actionable, and impactful? If not, you need to dive into our new guide on how to facilitate successful alignment sessions! 

Whether you're an experienced leader or new to the concept of OKRs, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to improve alignment, collaboration, and overall performance in your organization.

Why is an Alignment Session necessary?

Alignment is a critical step in addressing the day-to-day shortcomings of large organizations. A 2013 survey of over 12,000 employees by The Energy Project found that

  • 70% don't have regular time for creative and strategic thinking
  • 50% don't feel connected to their company's mission
  • 50% don't feel a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.

Thorough alignment can address these issues by motivating employees to think strategically each quarter, connecting their priorities to those of the organization, and empowering them with purpose and autonomy.

Quote "A company could put a top man at every position and be swallowed by a competitor with people only half as good, but who are working together." - W. Edwards Deming; Management Thinker

Preparing for the Alignment Session

Before you conduct the Alignment Session, several things need to be prepared in advance. The following preparation timeline can help you keep track of all the important steps:

1. Alignment Announcement:

  • Who: Alignment Facilitator
  • What: The corporate world is a busy world, so rooms, catering, etc. need to be booked well in advance. Same goes for calendar invitations that should go out to all the necessary people for the alignment.
  • Time: Start early enough to be on time.

2. Org OKR Drafting / Revision:

  • Who: Senior OKR Coach
  • What: Only if the Org OKRs are created and communicated transparently, teams will know how to align themselves. Therefore, the Org OKRs must be of good quality.
  • Time: Start 4+ weeks before the alignment sessions

3. Leadership Team Revision / Drafting:

  • Who: Senior OKR Coach
  • What: The leadership team's OKRs need to be quality reviewed by a senior OKR coach, who is also responsible for ensuring that the OKRs are drafted with all the necessary information.
  • Time: Only in the week following the Org OKR Draft.

4. Team of Teams (ToT) Drafting / Revision:

  • Who: Senior OKR Coach
  • What: Strategic input from product management or senior management is taken into account to create solid ToT OKRs. These need to be completed because the team OKRs will be aligned to them later.
  • Time: Only in the week following the Org OKR Draft.

5. Team Drafting / Revision:

  • Who: Team OKR Coach
  • What: Based on the Org OKRs and the Team of Team (ToT) OKRs, teams design their OKRs. Team OKR Coaches must have reviewed the OKRs for the alignment session.
  • Time: Typically 14-7 days in advance, but can start earlier.

6. Coach Roundtable:

  • Who: Alignment Facilitators
  • What: All types of OKR Coaches meet and discuss alignment concerns, potential problem resolutions, and trigger further clarification needs. Their role in the alignment sessions is also determined.
  • Time: During alignment preparation, early enough.

7. Alignment Preparation:

  • Who: Alignment Facilitator
  • What: With the insight and help of the OKR Coaches (who ensure team commitment and input), the presentation and entire workshop is prepared. Key people have been briefed on their role.
  • Time: Approximately 2 weeks, ending with alignment.

Alignment Session - Final Preparation Checklist:

  • The Alignment Session room is booked and set up, appropriate people are invited, and catering is ordered. 
  • Teams and leadership have entered their team information and OKR drafts correctly and completely. 
  • The Leadership Team has announced their speaker and prepared their introductory presentation (including the Org OKRs).
  • Senior OKR Coaches have spoken with other Senior OKR Coaches from other teams to identify cross-departmental dependencies.
  • OKR Coaches have met with the Alignment Facilitator to discuss their teams' OKRs, preliminary dependencies, and potential resolution strategies. 
  • The presentation for the alignment session is finalized and the people who will take part in it (including those who will join as micro-facilitators - probably OKR Coaches) are briefed.

Conducting the Alignment Workshop

When the preparation is complete, you are ready to hold your Alignment Workshop. You can follow our agenda template for the first few sessions. Over time, you should tailor the session to your organization's unique needs.

Goals of the Alignment Workshop

  • Recall the vision and high level priorities for the next cycle to ensure alignment. 
  • Create mutual understanding of all teams' individual & shared priorities for the next cycle 
  • Align OKRs to map the entire value chain to ensure their achievement 
  • Get buy-in from teams to drive team and cross-functional OKRs to ensure achievement of business objectives

Agenda of the Alignment Workshop

1. Welcome and Introduction - 5 minutes

The alignment session begins with a warm welcome to all participants. Remember that establishing clear rules of interaction is essential to fostering a respectful, productive, and inclusive environment. Here are some key rules:

  • Respectful Communication: Emphasize active listening, constructive feedback, and respectful discourse to ensure open and honest exchanges without personal attacks or interruptions.
  • Inclusivity and Engagement: Encourage full participation, value all contributions equally, and foster an environment where every voice is heard and respected, regardless of hierarchy or role.
  • Time Management and Efficiency: Emphasize the importance of concise contributions and adherence to the agenda to effectively cover all topics, including the mindful use of technology to avoid distractions.
  • Action-oriented discussions: Emphasize the goal of translating discussions into actionable outcomes, with an expectation of follow-up on agreed-upon actions to achieve tangible results.

2. Organizational OKRs - 10 minutes

Following the introduction, the session transitions to a recap of the organization's OKRs for the upcoming cycle. This segment is crucial for ensuring that every team member understands the overarching goals that will guide the organization's efforts and focus in the near term. The presentation of organizational OKRs is not just informational but also strategic, designed to bridge the gap between individual roles and the collective mission.

3. Team OKR presentations (large group) - 5 minutes per OKR

Each team presents its OKRs. The other teams take notes as they listen. These notes will be used in the next session to guide the alignment conversations.

Be sure to take notes on the following:

  • Relationship: Does one of your OKRs or another relate to this OKR? (e.g., similarities, overlaps, interdependencies)
  • Contribution: Should you support this OKR with your team's resources? (e.g., knowledge from your team needed)
  • General notes: Any other notes you would like to discuss with this team. (e.g. information to share)

4. Break Out Sessions (small groups, timed) - 70 minutes

Initiate the most urgent conversations with other teams based on your thoughts from the previous meeting.

Schedule mini-meetings - 10 minutes

Pick two post-its: one from your team and one from the team you want to talk to, and stick them in an empty space.

The Alignment Matching Wall

Team Talks - 60 minutes

Talk to other teams as effectively as possible and use the Matching Wall. Following this agenda, your team has up to 6 talks (10 min each) to exchange about dependencies, feedback or general thoughts. If the scope of your discussion extends the 10 min time-box, collect follow-ups on a WWW-board (Who, What When).

5. Building the OKR structure (large group) - 50 minutes

Present your OKRs and their contributors and design an initial goal chart. Visualize the connections between the OKRs and how they contribute to the overall company goals. 

Then have an open discussion and ask the following questions:

  • Does it make sense to connect the "island" OKRs?
  • Is every OKR necessary? Or could you deprioritize/delete some to be more focused?
  • Is it possible to combine some similar OKRs? Should some OKRs be split into two?
  • Does a top-level goal lack support and need another OKR?

Alter the goal chart according to the outcomes of the discussion:

The Goal Graph

6. Debrief and feedback (teams) - 10 minutes

All potential next steps should be collected on a whiteboard and followed-up afterwards. In order to make it even better next time, don’t forget to collect participants' feedback. 

Too much work? Workpath is here to help!

For large organizations, such a process does not make sense because it is not scalable. That is why Workpath has built a software solution to streamline, automate and scale alignment across all your teams and business units. Teams can plan their capacity in the tool or request and commit to OKR support through our contribution request functionality. The goal graph is automatically generated and shows you how your organization's goals are connected or where more alignment is needed. 

But Workpath does so much more! Explore our strategy execution tool and all the support that comes with it in an exclusive demo:

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