3 Ways Your Team Struggles with Execution

According to Donald Sull, Charles Sull, and Rebecca Homkes in their Harvard Business Review article titled “Why Strategy Execution Unravels,” execution suffers because people fail to collaborate horizontally. After interviewing and researching thousands of employees, researchers found that execution suffers not because teams are not aligned vertically but because they fail to work together horizontally. It is important to understand the difference.

If you are a leader or if you have a leader, the people you lead or the person you report to are in “your vertical.” Execution often does not suffer because of breakdowns in these relationships. Savvy and wise leaders learn to communicate well, to hold people accountable, to set goals, and to move people in a direction.

But more than “vertical leadership” is required. Working with people on other teams, working laterally across multiple areas, is essential in execution. According to the research, struggles with execution happen because people who need to work together across teams struggle to do so. When coordination falters, so does execution. Why do teams and leaders often struggle here? From my observation, for at least 3 reasons:

1. Lack of community

People desire to help those they trust and respect, but trust takes time to build. And if there is lack of community across teams, working laterally will be a challenge. A staff at a local church, for example, can quickly degenerate into a plethora of sub-ministries that share the same office space, each focused solely on his/her areas of responsibility. When the relationships are not fostered, trust is low; thus, people have a difficult time influencing others laterally.

2. Lack of care

Execution on a broad scale requires multiple people and teams carrying the burden. If execution falters, care and concern likely did not spread widely enough. If care for an initiative or project is localized only to your team, it won’t reach levels of broad adoption. For some things, this is fine, as much of the work of your team is localized to your team. But for projects or tasks or initiatives that spread across multiple areas, a lack of care across those areas will doom execution.

3. Lack of communication

Both community and care require communication. In many ways, lateral leadership is the hardest kind of leadership. You serve alongside people but don’t report to them, and they don’t report to you either. But because leadership is about influence, execution requires influencing people who do not report to you. This will not happen without communication of goals, priorities, and sequencing. If execution is faltering, lateral communication is likely faltering as well.

Peter Drucker quipped, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” The hard work of execution requires more than just you, and even more than just your team.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree with your 3 must-haves. I would add that the rectors have to call on every member who attends, at least once a year. The existence of a "calling commitee" is just an excuse to avoid making the effort. This is part of #3. If a rector does not like to call on parishioners, then she/he should not be a rector, but should find a different ministry. Carter Kerns, former senior warden, Diocese of Eastern Oregon and lifelong Episcopalian Tel# 541-379-3124
— Carter Kerns
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
— Jon Moore
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks

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