For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about developing a training called, “The Art of Aligning.” Aligning groups is fundamentally what my work is about. Like all things related to collaboration, I feel like folks can learn how to do it well by practicing.
I originally envisioned it as a face-to-face training, and I wanted to incorporate lots of somatic experiences to remind us of what alignment actually feels like. COVID-19 has pretty much put the kibosh on that for the time-being, but I think you can still develop a good training without it.
My approach to helping a group align is the Squirm Test, which consists of articulating what you think is the shared understanding of the group, and watching to see how much squirming happens while you talk. If no one squirms, you have shared understanding, which is a prerequisite for alignment.
Said another way, you help a group align by constantly testing for alignment and by making the results visible, so that the group itself can make adjustments accordingly. You’re essentially creating a tighter feedback loop than what normally exists when all you’re doing is tracking behavior.
I realized today that polling in elections is a manifestation of this same principle with all the same flaws. A poll is an attempt to measure alignment at various stages. Similarly, the Squirm Test is essentially a behavioral survey.
Polls are, by definition, imperfect. I continue to be baffled by people’s critique of polling in their post-presidential election analysis, because they seem not to understand this. Polls give you a guess as to where people are, so you can adjust your tactics and strategies accordingly, but at the end of the day, it’s still a guess. At least with elections, you have a clean measure in the end by which to see how off your polls were. In most things in life, we have to hand-wave those assessments also.
Bottom line: Alignment is hard.