Finding Alignment

Finding alignment in your work is imperative to a well-balanced life. There have been too many times when myself and my past colleagues have found ourselves misaligned on things, which can be disruptive, not only to the work at hand, but also to our mental well-being. I’ve witnessed this sort of misalignment send projects into disarray; sometimes this can be corrected back into place, but other times it can spell disaster over the long term.

So, ask yourself:

  • Is the product that I’m working aligned with my beliefs? (Do I believe in the product?)
  • Is the work that I’m doing aligned with the project? (Am I at the right skill level?)
  • Am I aligned with the team?
  • Is my manager aligned with me and my work?

In multiple instances, I’ve worked with people that did not believe in the game or tech we were working on, but begrudgingly kept going for whatever reason. It’s simply not good for either you or the future of the project if you don’t believe in its value or chance of success. It does not necessarily have to be a bad realization to have sunk cost. We often doubt the process or quality of work behind something due to our past experiences. Try to lean into your gut feeling and figure out how to course correct, but how do you accomplish that?

In some cases, you may have to walk through what the project is for: Can you believe that Game X will be fun/interesting/unique if there are tweaks people are willing to make? Can Tech Y be improved eventually to solve issues for developers and become a useful tool? If your answer is yes, then it makes sense to put in the time and effort to communicate your issues to the team, as well as bring some suggestions on how to solve them. If your answer is no, however, then it might be more advantageous for you to step away from the project.

I recently experienced the latter. Though I’d put a lot of effort and energy into the project, I just couldn’t get behind it due to the technical issues I kept seeing. It pained me to look at all that work as a waste, so I took it as a net positive learning experience, and left the project. Sometimes, you’ve gotta throw away your code, design, art, or idea and start over again fresh, instead of building on top of work you don’t believe in and will struggle with later.

Other times we might find ourselves doing work that’s either below or above our skillset, thus misaligning our daily tasks or our way of thinking about the project.

Being assigned work that you know you cannot perform is a bad spot to be in. At several companies I have worked at, I’ve inherited staff from previous managers or got transfers to my team that I could quickly evaluate were not suited for the position at hand. Or I would see people getting interviewed for one position but weirdly get placed in another due to either lack of experience on their manager’s part or the need for a quick fill in/fix to the project.

I think it’s great if you feel you are up for a challenge to do something that is above your scope. But if you find yourself in a situation where you know that you cannot do a good job, speak up and say something before the project quality and timeline become jeopardized.

There might be times when you are asked to do something that is super easy and I am always at a mindset that nothing is beneath me. But if you feel like you are being punished, or your employer is wasting money by paying you a lot to do something that is basically wasting your time when you can focus on a more complex problem, speak up.

I see this a lot, very unfortunately, with female co-workers. For example, I knew one female engineer that got assigned to do more administrative work than programming tasks, even though hiring an office manager for an appropriate pay range would be more efficient. The men in the office simply just threw admin work over to the only female in the area. This misalignment was bad for multiple reasons and should have been corrected immediately.

I value teamwork above all else. I really believe that it takes a village to get shit done. I find that it’s super important to hire a diverse group of people for various reason that I will go into in my next blog, but also that the group dynamic is cohesive. Hiring people is tough, you gotta get the right skill set and the right personality fit for the project and the team. I find during some interviews people aren’t really true to themselves and will be “fake” because they need the job. When on a team, do you feel that you are aligned with your teammates about what the project goals are? Or is there dissent?

Communication is usually the culprit here… miscommunication or lack of communication can greatly misalign teams and goals. At Our Machinery, we recently faced a minor bump due to my lack of communication and a miscommunication with the guys. It’s hard when our group is split up in different timezones. In order for us to fix the issue, we talked about it at length with an open mind to our ideas and dispassionate observation to sort out where the breakdowns were. We also upped our scheduled communication with one another to reduce the risk of getting misaligned again. It was a great learning experience for us, especially since Tobias and Niklas have the advantage of working together as partners before and I am new to their partnership. I would recommend to over-communicate to your peers, especially in the beginning of a project or if physical separation means there is less spontaneous talk.

Finally, I wanted to touch a bit on the relationship between you and your manager. Being aligned with your manager will make your work a lot easier. I am not saying you need to agree all the time with all decisions. Sometimes you need to fight the good fight if things are going awry and sometimes you need to say your peace or piece, but commit to the process and goals to move forward.

Aligning yourself with the person managing you starts at the interview process. (I will talk in depth on my opinions about interviewing in another blog, as I believe this is an important process that gets fucked up a lot.) Always meet your manager as well as the person managing your manager. Make sure you understand the culture of the group you are getting yourself into and that you can commit to what their goals, end results, business plans, and product architectures are going to be. You can always change processes and influence things once you are in, but it’s a big red flag if the people above you are not aligned with what your vision of the job and/or project is.

When you are working on a project, also make sure that you have regular check-ins or one-on-ones and speak up when you are confused or disagree about something. Your manager’s job is to make sure that you can do your job well. Also, good managers hire people that will eventually surpass them, so if you feel like you aren’t being respected or if you feel like you are getting thrown under the bus it might be time to have a chat and see what the issues are. There are a lot of bad managers out there, I’ve dealt with my fair share. Some of them weren’t nice people and lead groups with their own ego and not for the greater good, and some just were clueless but nice people that meant well. You really have to just speak up and get your manager back in alignment with you, if you can’t, that’s another reason to soul search and see if you need to move on from your current position.

Seek paths to resolutions for your issues at work, not conflict. It’ll set you up for better alignment. Don’t shy away from confrontation, but keep a professional manner. In my experience, communication is always a good start to getting yourself back aligned on the work you are doing and the people you are spending time with on projects. It makes life a bit easier.