Professional sports. Many of us are practically addicted to tracking the stats and scores of our favorite teams and players. Whether you’re the number one fan for your college alma mater, state team or local minor league club, one thing remains consistent: the most successful teams and coaches have achieved something that us business folks are constantly striving for – alignment.

Just take a look at these three examples:

College Basketball. UCLA. Ten NCAA National Championship titles in 12 years, seven of those consecutively. Coach: John Robert Wooden. Known For: A focus on team play.

Pro Football. 1972 Miami Dolphins. The only NFL team to win the Super Bowl with a perfect, undefeated season. Coach: Don Shula. Known For: No-nonsense leadership.

Pro Basketball. 1990s Chicago Bulls. Six NBA Championships in seven years, including two three-peats. Coach: Phil Jackson. Known For: Holistic coaching.

These are three different sports. Three different eras. And yet each tells a similar story of perseverance and wild success. The common thread? High-performing teams working in concert toward a common goal with stellar, big-picture leaders at their helms. In a word – alignment.

Yes, in each instance the coaches had the same thing going for them: their teams were aligned. Each individual knew their role in the game and was committed to thinking and acting in ways that would bring about victory time and again. Alignment like this is the cornerstone of any organization’s – sports or otherwise – success or failure. It’s the invisible force field that powers teams through resistance, adversity and roadblocks.

When these teams met for practice, or strategized in the locker room, how do you think it went?

Coach: So, here’s the plan. Let’s win.

Team: Yeah! We’re in.

Probably not. And if you think you’re a great leader because your teams reply, “I agree” or “You have my vote,” well, think again. Passive agreement is not a sign of alignment and it’s certainly not a validation of excellent stewardship. In fact, these responses are the easy ones to give because they avoid confrontation. They make people happy. They keep meetings moving along. What the simple “yes” doesn’t do is prove that your people are really behind the strategy (one they’ve even perhaps co-authored) and in alignment with you to do what’s needed to emerge victorious.

The only way to forge true alignment is to willingly embrace the conflict and diversity that naturally exist between people and change. This is definitely easier said than done because forging true alignment can be a messy process. It takes time. Feathers might be ruffled as individuals put aside personal opinions to move forward with what is best for the team.

To make it easier for your people to align – like the best professional sports teams out there – in order to adopt the changes necessary to turn your business an industry champion, check out these five tips.

  • Celebrate individuals while focusing on the fact that you’re much stronger together than as single players. Just look at your favorite team for inspiration – each player is critical to the game and to each other – passing, catching and blocking so a single player’s score can benefit the entire team.
  • Go over the micro details. Yes, the big picture is essential to understand and be in alignment on. But, you also all need to agree on the route you’re taking to get there.
  • Be vulnerable. As a leader or manager, you have to admit you may not have all the answers right away. Let your people know that their opinions matter. That you value their intellect as much as your own and know that you’re smarter as a collective force.
  • Welcome discomfort. If change is needed, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. And if you want to be aligned during change, everyone has to be willing to stop doing certain things just because you’ve always done them.
  • Be prepared to lose people along the way. It does happen. Anyone unwilling to evolve, unable to see the vision and the future may have to fall away in the process.

The potential of an organization aligned on its strategy is limitless. And the results are often immeasurable. Just ask your favorite athletes. It’s not just about the quarterback or the wide receiver, the point guard or the forward. The best teams only reached such levels of success because they were skilled in alignment and lived with a team first mindset. This way of thinking is a must for us non-athletic types too.