The Danger in a “Mostly Aligned” Team

My two worlds collided one recent weekend. I introduced my young daughters to the classic film, The Princess Bride. I also had just completed a number of interviews with executives and stakeholders of a client I’m working with on Leading Change in these remarkable times. These things may seem unrelated, but watch how this comes together.

My girls loved Billy Crystal as Miracle Max. The minute the credits ended, they began quoting him. “Girls, come down to dinner,” was met with, “Why don’t you give me a paper cut and rub some lemon juice in it?” My youngest daughter punctuated her kiss goodnight with, “Bye bye boys, have fun storming the castle!” When I asked the girls to retrieve a book for me, they responded with, “It will take a miracle!”

“It will take a miracle” — this is how many business leaders feel as they try to rally their organizations around a big opportunity. After the girls went to sleep, I started reviewing my interview notes from earlier in the week. During these interviews, we always ask about strategy, opportunities and challenges. We also ask how aligned the leadership team is around where they are going, how they want to get there and how quickly and boldly they are planning to move. As I read their responses, I kept hearing Miracle Max. The most common response for this client, as with many of our clients, was “mostly aligned.” Miracle Max had a great line about “mostly”: “Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

I believe executive alignment—really, any alignment—is binary: you either are or you are not. I think about the wheels on my car being “mostly aligned” and what that would feel like. Yet most leadership teams stop at “mostly aligned” and accept it as sufficient. They tend to forget that “mostly aligned” is amplified exponentially further down in the organization, creating more and more distance among an organization’s members. By the time you’ve reached the rank-and-file, the organization is only slightly alive.

One interview answer particularly caught my eye: “ We are aligned on the things we need to be aligned on. The other stuff … we don’t play in each others’ sandboxes.” We talked to the people who worked for this interviewee. They too, recognized this leaders’ attitude, which they translated as, “They do their best to not work together with others or have us coordinate our efforts.”

This may seem trivial, but here are the downstream and long-term effects of this lack of alignment:

  1. Inconsistent instructions based on different interpretations of a new strategy;
  2. Conflicting priorities across silos and departments;
  3. Performance metrics and expectations that reward silo performance and individual achievement over organization-wide results and customer satisfaction;
  4. Vastly different content, focus and messages from meetings.

So, what will it take for these executives to get from “mostly aligned” to aligned? It won’t take a miracle, or even a really big (though chocolate-covered) pill. It will demand the courage to create the time and space to have a conversation about what needs to change so they can accelerate their strategies toward success. Often executives will say they are too busy to make that kind of space. Later, they recognize the turbulence, lost opportunities and wasted energy they’ve caused, and how it has crippled their strategic efforts.

But with a little effort—no magic required—an organization can go from “slightly alive” to thriving.

Read more from Kotter International here.

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Ken Perlman

Ken Perlman

Ken Perlman is an engagement leader at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Ken is the father of Ruby and Sadie and lives in southern California with his wife Anastasia.

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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
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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