Nothing guarantees mission failure more than a lack of alignment in a senior leadership team. No responsible leadership team wants to be misaligned, but it happens all the time and can be very damaging to the success of an organization. When alignment does not exist, then entire company feels it which in turn will ensure that employees are not connected to a shared sense of purpose. Conversely, when alignment does exist, employees will invest more of their time, talents and energy into meeting or exceeding the goals of the organization.
I was recently working with one of my clients at their leadership offsite event on doing exactly that: getting everyone aligned. The company had just gone through a large merger and many of the senior leaders within the global business services department had not even met before. We facilitated a full day's worth of activities to establish some working principles and team norms that would be the foundation for how they lead the organization moving forward.
After doing a morning keynote presentation on leadership, trust and accountability we launched into a series of fun and interactive sessions that would lead to established processes and actionable takeaways.
Here are the six important steps for ensuring alignment within a senior leadership team.
Establish alignment on the "why" behind the organization.
Organizations and their leaders spend a lot of time communicating what they do and how they do it but little to no time on WHY they exist. When I ask senior leaders this their responses often float back to a version of what they do but few have a focused response on what they really believe in, what the core values are and why their employees come to work every day.
Without establishing the "why" it is difficult to build and protect a great organizational culture. A culture designed to instill specific beliefs that drive actions and ultimately results. But there must be alignment on the "why" and it should be articulated in some fashion in the company's cultural beliefs statement. If everyone isn't totally aligned, the employees will eventually receive mixed messaging and start to lose faith in the mission.
Define the culture necessary to support the "why."
Once the "why" has been defined and agreed upon, a leadership team must use this as the foundation for all decisions related to building the organizational culture. Leaders must create experiences that enforce cultural beliefs. And those beliefs must lead team members to proactively take decisive action to achieve specific results.
In one of my previous companies, when taking the team through a rebranding exercise, we realized when working on our cultural beliefs statement that we had never truly defined our "why" which made it almost impossible to make decisions on other areas related to the culture. So we went back to the drawing board in order to be as authentic as possible. Authenticity is critical and everyone on a senior leadership team must evangelize the culture. Every decision and communication must align with the culture and values.
Agree on a shared vision and the results that need to be achieved.
When a leadership team is truly aligned on the company's vision it enables the entire organization to have something to get behind. Empowered leaders at all levels can then make decisions based on supporting the ultimate vision. Employees don't really care much about EBITDA or fluctuations in top line revenue. They need to feel connected to something bigger. They need to know that their work matters and is having a positive impact.
Like all of these steps, this must start at the top. Once the vision is clearly established and regularly communicated, the team can work towards the results necessary for achieving the vision. A good practice to establish is focused communication from the leadership team about the vision. There is never too much repetition when comes discussing the vision and goals.
Define what winning looks like.
Great business and military leaders do it. Elite athletes do it. Envisioning what winning looks like is a critical part of achieving success. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right."
Studies in neuroscience show that when we literally picture ourselves achieving a goal, our brain starts to find ways to get us there. A great exercise to go through once a team has defined their shared vision and goals is to first individually picture what winning looks like and then share those ideas with the team. What does the organization feel like? What will it be celebrating? Going through this exercise is fun and inspiring. It is interesting to see how different team members will envision the win.
Articulate who is accountable, responsible and informed on all initiatives.
Now we are getting into the important elements of accountability and follow-through. All of this is great but if these discussions are left on the table when everyone dives back into the weeds of their day jobs, nothing will improve. There are three levels to the hierarchy for achieving results. A best practice is to have one person "own" an outcome and ultimately be accountable. Others assisting in the effort should be responsible for helping drive the outcome. And other supporting team members must be regularly informed and share information on progress with one another.
This should be defined, agreed upon and communicated to the rest of the organization so others know who to turn to for information.
Set regular check-ins to stay aligned.
A rhythm of meetings and scheduled communication is key for any team to stay aligned. Priorities shift and leaders must be ready to adapt. But all must agree on what the priorities are or need to become. Otherwise varying directives will be coming from the top and chaos will ensue. These check-ins are one of the priorities and must be consistent. Time must be made for those accountable to share updates on progress so that all are informed on where things stand.
Using these six steps any leadership team can get and remain aligned which will created a great foundation for a winning team.