Many struggling companies look beyond their front doors to identify the source of their problems. It is natural to look at the shifts in the market, the strategies of your competition and bottlenecks in the supply chain. It is easy to find some external force behind every stumbling block they face.
But some of those businesses may find their biggest hurdle is internal. When leaders aren't in alignment, the company as a whole can't be. Out of alignment, they disagree on how to lead their teams, execute a new strategy or maintain a competitive edge. The stress at the top trickles all the way down to the teams doing the daily work.
Ninety-two percent of the companies surveyed by Deloitte indicated their focus was "redesigning the way we work" to orient themselves around a team dynamic rather than a hierarchy-focused one.
How, exactly, can leaders get aligned?
Eliminating problems becomes the primary focus; only after those issues are handled can anything else be addressed. I have worked with more than 100 CEOs of fast-growing companies, and the continuous challenges take up nearly 50 percent of their days.
Curt Cronin, a former Navy SEAL and the CEO of consulting firm Ridgeline Partners, says his team has seen this firsthand. "Leaders tell us they spend the majority of their day navigating internal issues that are continuously bubbling just below the surface, leeching valuable time and resources away from executing against critical company objectives," he says.
Here are a few ways Cronin recommends leaders improve team dynamics.
Get aligned around a clear and common mission.
As a Navy SEAL, the purpose behind a given mission is always very clear and part of a larger vision for what the entire organization is tasked with upholding. In the case of businesses, leaders will create separate mission statements and objectives for their individual departments.
While that can be quite effective at the departmental level, they're missing the mark in creating a unifying mission statement that applies to the entire company -- and that every department can connect back to its work.
Connect the mission to the bottom line.
Many times, individual departmental and financial goals are not achieved because they're not connected to and aligned with the organization's mission. For example, if the product team focuses solely on executing its roadmap, it may execute the roadmap perfectly and still fail if the product is disconnected from what customers want.
Showing leaders how they and their teams can inhibit the company's growth with one-track goals -- and drive massive success with "missions" nested within the bigger goal -- can go a long way toward creating alignment.
Create opportunities for cross-functional initiatives.
Many companies miss opportunities to improve their processes or remove unnecessary steps by simply not bringing people together. A company wanting to implement two new product lines by the end of the year would do well to bring its research and development team together with its sales team to do a demo of each product and ask how prospects would respond.
Adding a function or making an element user-friendly early saves the research and development team time later, improves sales and leaves both teams feeling better about how their company will fare in the other's hands.
Treat accountability like a job.
The idea of creating company-wide accountability isn't to micromanage each other; it's to establish a dynamic of having each other's back. Rather than see others' work as an opportunity to point out problems, set the expectation that leaders and teams will approach each other with suggestions or questions to improve together. Empower one person (preferably with a view into multiple areas) to facilitate companywide problem-solving.
Host a team-building event.
Because each leader is responsible for a different segment, it's easy to focus on the work and lose touch with other leaders' needs and perspectives. A relationship-building event is a good way to bring leaders and team members from different departments and locations together to reflect and open up about battle stories (and scars) away from daily work. Sharing problems, identifying opportunities and offering best practices builds trust and removes friction to make way for understanding.
I have seen the damage that a lack of leadership alignment can have on teams, and getting it right can have a massive impact on a business's operations and success. Rather than look externally for the cause of what ails your company, take a look internally -- you may need to make sure your team is on the same page before you write the next one.