Alignment: Is There Such a Thing?

There is a lot of talk about getting organizations in alignment. What does that really mean? Is there an expectation that everyone lines up and acts the same, is the same, talks the same? That may be the definition that some use. But organizational alignment isn't quite that "stiff." The dictionary gives us a couple of different definitions on alignment. The American Heritage Dictionary says that alignment is an "arrangement or position in a straight line or in parallel lines." The definition I prefer from the same source is that alignment is "the process of adjusting parts so that they are in proper relative position." Organizations aren't in a straight line; however, the various departments (parts) must be in a fitting relative position to each other.

My belief is that when you are in a culture where there is alignment, you do get a sense that everyone is clear about the purpose/ambition of the organization and how their role contributes to that. When people understand how what they do connects to the organization, and if the right systems and processes are in place for the work to get done, alignment can start to happen. On the flipside, I recently visited an organization, and depending who I spoke to, I got a different sense about the company. It felt as if the company had a split personality, maybe multiple personalities. It was clear to me that people were not focusing their energies towards the same goal. The departments weren't in "relative position," but rather opposition to each other.

I am not so naïve as to think that every person in an organization will head in the same direction. However, I get concerned when an organization seems scattered, vs. being drawn or pulled in the same direction.

That's my view. What's yours: Is there really such as thing as organizational alignment?