Question: At our organization, the best word to describe our leadership team is dysfunctional. (We wouldn’t tell them that, of course.) What are some ways we can create alignment among our senior leaders so programs are rolled out more consistently across the organization?
Answer: Leadership team alignment begins with member consensus on the organization’s business objectives and strategy. Aligned teams have a high level of clarity and agreement on purpose, vision, values, goals, procedures, roles and trust.
Leaders themselves may be the least able to determine whether they are aligned. While everyone around the table may be nodding during leadership meetings, what happens outside the boardroom can be more telling. Generating real alignment requires considerable effort. Alignment rarely, if ever, evolves naturally.
So, how do you determine whether leaders are aligned — and what can you do if they aren’t aligned?
Few would disagree it’s important for leadership team members to be on the same page. If there is no alignment, there will be confusion among employees, affecting productivity and engagement.
There can be other repercussions as well — missed opportunities, damage to the corporate brand, an inability to attract and retain top talent and, of course, a negative impact on the company’s bottom line.
One quick test to determine the degree of misalignment within the leadership team would be to ask each member to list, in priority order, the five biggest opportunities or the five biggest challenges for the organization. If a six-member team comes back with half a dozen different answers, they are obviously not on the same page.
Achieving leadership team alignment is an ongoing process. Various circumstances — including new leadership or members, an acquisition or a change in strategic direction — can result in leaders and teams falling out of sync. Even previously aligned teams may falter in these situations.
What does it look like?
An aligned leadership team has its act together, with members working together to achieve success. Consider these features of an aligned team — “the four Cs” of an effective C-suite:
Commitment: Leaders must be doing more than merely complying with what is expected of them. They must feel a real commitment to and passion for organizational success, as well as accountability for achieving it.
Connection: Leaders need to go beyond simply having contact or communicating with one another — there needs to be a real connection. This requires mutual trust and respect, as well as a shared set of values.
Content: When leaders are aligned, focus and messaging are consistent. Others in the organization understand the business strategy and the role they play in realizing objectives.
Controls: There need to be well-defined “rules of engagement” or operating systems that reflect a consistent set of attitudes and behaviours.
Transforming the team
In-depth leadership team assessment, followed by coaching, are effective options for achieving alignment. Individual coaching can serve as a preventative measure for members who may not be onside.
For instance, if a new leadership team has been formed as the result of a merger, team-building and coaching can help ensure all leaders are in sync. This ensures the necessary operational rules are in place at the beginning of the relationship.
As part of the assessment phase, it’s important to determine which strengths each member brings to the team. There are a number of tools (I-OPT, for example) available to survey, measure and assess personalities, styles, communication and conflicts.
Ideally, a leadership team wants the right mix of complementary traits, enabling them to use a range of strengths effectively within the framework of common objectives.
When gaps are identified, coaching can assist leaders to:
•develop strategies and an action plan to close those gaps and leverage strengths
•discuss and agree on purpose, vision, goals, success criteria, operating processes and accountability
•determine how to act with one another (for example, develop a code of conduct and a decision-making approach)
•learn to engage in dialogue practices (diverse people, sequencing conversations, developing powerful questions) and surface appropriate issues before trying to reach a solution
The importance of alignment is, of course, not limited to the leadership team. However, if leaders are aligned, they serve as a model for all teams within the organization, enabling them to accelerate performance and deliver better solutions to achieve business results.
Anne Cleall is vice-president of business development at Verity International in Toronto. Jeff Welton is Verity’s managing director, executive coaching and career services. For more information, visit www.verityintl.com.
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