Creating Executive Team Alignment

By Anne Cleall and Jeff Welton (Written for Canadian HR Reporter, August 2014)

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 least able to determine whether they are aligned. While everyone may be nodding around the table during leadership meetings, what happens outside the boardroom may be more telling. Generating real alignment requires considerable effort. Alignment rarely, if ever, evolves naturally.

So, how does an organization determine whether its leaders are aligned and what can be done about it if they aren’t?

Assessing Alignment

Few would disagree that it’s important for an organization’s leadership team members to be on the same page. If there is no alignment at the leadership level, then there will be confusion with employees, affecting productivity and engagement. There can be other repercussions as well: missed opportunities, damage to the corporate brand, inability to attract and retain top talent and, of course, a negative impact on the company’s bottom line.

One example of a quick test to determine the degree of misalignment within the leadership team, would be to ask each member to list in priority what the five biggest opportunities are for the organization and/or the five biggest challenges. If a six-member team comes back with half a dozen different answers, then 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, a change in strategic direction, etc., can result in leaders and teams falling out of sync. Even previously aligned teams may falter in these situations.

So What Does Alignment 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 needs 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, is an effective option 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 that 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 what 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, you want the right mix of complementary traits, enabling the team to utilize a range of strengths and talents effectively within the framework of common strategy and objectives.  

When gaps have been identified, we can assist leaders to:

  • Develop strategies and an action plan to close gaps and leverage strengths
  • Discuss and agree on purpose, vision, goals, success criteria, operating processes, accountability
  • Determine how to act with one another, i.e.,  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 get to 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.