Yesterday I worked with a leadership team who are one of the most aligned teams I have worked with. There is a general ease amongst them, they know what they are there to do and genuinely care about the result and each other. The have been on a leadership development journey together, yet they still struggle with alignment.

During their strategy day I asked them, “What is your number one block or barrier to success in 2021?”. I was astonished as 4 out of the 8 replied alignment. I think the Leaders felt the same.

My heart sank a little. We have been working on creating a one team approach for some time. I could see how far they had come and how much they had developed together, yet there was still something not working. I needed to understand what was still blocking their feeling of alignment and it their response was insightful.

“We all share the same goals. We all totally buy in to the strategy, yet we all have different priorities, and it causes confusion and conflict”.

Now I could see where the problem was. It wasn’t lack of alignment around direction but lack of structure and communication in operating and delivery. They may all be heading in the same direction, but when:

  •  Some are moving faster than others
  • Some have all the resources, clarity and focus,
  • Some are simply surviving and playing catch up

They are all in the same race but starting at different positions and in different lanes. No wonder there is confusion.

Each team I work with starts with alignment and it’s a thread that runs through each session we have together, because it’s not a onetime activity. It requires daily check ins, communication, and clarity. It is a vital role of any leader, in any position.

It all comes back to leadership. There are 4 key steps that each leader must take when establishing alignment within teams and organisations.

Purpose and Outcomes

Purpose and Outcomes

Step 1:

The purpose.

The leader, race coach, conductor, their job is to get the team to deliver results together. The first element is to communicate the result, outcome, or vision. The leader must communicate what the result looks like. They must be able to create the vision in everyone’s minds so they can see it so clearly with no ambiguity. Central to this is the big WHY. The WHY statement is what makes it compelling, motivating and so everyone has skin in the game.

Now this why statement can be applied to the grand strategy (purpose, vision, and mission) or applied to a new project that needs to be initiated. The principles are the same. If you want to lead people to change their focus, pace, behaviour, or actions, you need to give them a reason to.

Then, to align, ask each person, why this matter to them as an individual, and them as a team.

This questions the respondent to organise their thoughts and speak with clarity. It helps you understand what matters to them and where their motivations are, and helps everyone else understand each other’s needs, motivations, and priorities.


Step 2:

Agree on the shared vision, results, and words.

I still believe Patrick Lencioni says it best. “when people weigh in, they buy in”. It never fails. When everyone is involved in creating the vision, they begin to be emotionally invested in it.

Leaders can learn to lead the conversations around this by asking.

“What does success look like to you?”

“How will we know when we have achieved the goal?”

“How do we write this down and speak about this so everyone understands?”

These important questions need to be answered collaboratively by the team, and the leader’s role is to pose the question and include everyone, and when needed, make the decision, and build the momentum to start.

If there is lack of agreement, open up the conversation to understand what is not aligned. Fail to do this and you have false harmony and no alignment or commitment.


Step 3:

The structure, strategy or plan

Once the leader has aligned the team around the goal, the why and the success factors, now the structure comes. This is the step that my client was struggling to master. He had fired the starting gun, and everyone rushed off on their own race, not knowing who had the baton and or who needed it next.

So, the structure, plan or strategy simply means agreeing:

  • Who is responsible for what?
  • When does “it” need to be done?
  • What resources will be used?
  • Who makes the decisions?
  • Who are the stakeholders, interested parties or dependents?

Having a target is not enough. Having a detailed business plan is not enough. The structure to implement, accountability and delivery plan is vital. That’s why so many leaderships away days don’t deliver much value. There is a lot of talk, little follow through.

Together agree what the priorities are and assign an owner, lead or accountable person to each. Then agree who will work on the priority: people, functions or teams will be and how much time they will be allocated to delivery. Finally, who are the supporting functions and what will they need to do to deliver the priority.

This can easily be written up in a plan and communicated. You can add to an online collaboration platform such as google drives, slack, Mondays, one drive or your internal SharePoint. You can apply it to Gantt charts, or your project planning tools. The point is, answer the questions, agree accountability, and communicate to the stakeholders, team members and influencers.


Step 4:

The follow up

Now the critical part of alignment, follow up and check-ins. Some functions may sprint away and get everything done quickly. Others may have a burning platform that needs focusing on with urgency and the big goal gets side-tracked. Others may deliver poor quality or strive for perfection. Everyone is out of sync.

As a leader, you need to keep the team aligned by ensuring that everyone knows how everyone else is doing and contributing towards the goal. This isn’t about blaming or exposing others, quite the contrary. This open dialogue and transparency is about resolving issues, creating understanding and support to enable better cohesive working relationships. So much time wasting, negative conflicts and blame comes from lack of alignment and misunderstandings.

You could set up a rhythm of meetings and schedule communication. You might set up a collaborative document or tracker that everyone involved in the goal must own and update. Perhaps you all agree on how to communicate delays, completion or other priorities or issues that risks the result being delivered. You, as the leader, must have transparency and information and collaboratively make quick decisions as and when required.

An aligned team or organisation doesn't happen by accident. It is a strategic decision and take work, persistence and focus. It's often the first thing that goes when a crisis occurs. Yet we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. If the leadership team is not aligned, the business is not aligned. 

If you need help with aligning your team get in touch. You can also listen to the podcast episode here.