Getting Aligned: The Three Non-Negotiables of Great Leadership Teams

Strong leadership alignment is built on three items: common goals, role clarity and team problem-solving for better decisions.

Exacerbated by COVID, a lack of leadership coordination has led to frustration, emotion and unclear direction for employees. This challenge is now nearing the top of the list of business challenges. Strong leadership alignment is built on three items: common goals, role clarity and team problem-solving for better decisions. Let’s explore the problem, its potentially damaging effects on your organization and how to resolve it.

Your people are watching. An owner of a $45 million distribution company was dismayed that her management team wasn’t working as a unit. Discussion revealed the negative effect of management misalignment on her employees. Employees at all levels are taking cues from their leaders.  Although they get along well with each other, her senior team was not effective as a unit.

Collegial teams may not be collaborative ones. Within a collegial team, members get along with each other and have some sense of shared responsibility. But collaboration is a higher order – it speaks to a team that functions as one – with common goals and clear roles to achieve those goals. Collaboration takes work – a desire and readiness for strong leadership.

Common Goals

The most common reason for a management team’s misalignment is the assessment of each member, against different criteria. How your management team is measured and rewarded dictates how they work together. Which means that you need to set clear, specific and measurable goals or business objectives relevant to the mission and organization’s values. This turns a collegial team into a collaborative team. Next, choose meaningful markers – key results linked directly to the goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that gauge your progress toward the results you seek. And develop a scorecard, to track progress and to allow you to correct course, when needed.

Working in a team environment builds spirit, accountability and stronger decision-making. Aligned groups often step up their effort for the sake of the team. Teams help leaders fuse individual traits and attributes into a complementary collection of strengths – minimizing weaknesses in the process.

Role Clarity

When a senior leader or manager is asked what his or her role is, the answer is often focused narrowly, on their single function. Great teams have clearly defined each person’s role, for both their individual area of responsibility and their role on the leadership team. This includes the roles of the owner and senior leader. Musicians in a symphony play different instruments but come together as a unit. A great team becomes a unit, because each person’s role is clear in the context of the whole.

Rather than update job descriptions, which is a limited process, define roles within the key functions necessary to achieve your organization’s goals. This means setting core expectations the team members have for each other. Link these expectations to your values, including important leadership traits such as listening, timely follow-up and keeping each other informed.

Team Problem-Solving for Better Decisions

During uncertain times like these, business leaders often defer decision-making, preferring to wait until they feel they have all of the information necessary. But waiting for certainty delays decision making and encourages anxiety. Avoid the delay by striving to cross the 80% threshold. When you have most of what you need to make a decision, go forward.

In short, make problem solving a team sport. The following three-step framework will lead to quality decision-making. It focuses first on understanding and clarifying the problem before jumping into solutions that might be off-strategy or solve the wrong problem.

Define the problem, its root cause and its effect on your people, your finances, your business and your clients. Drill down on the reason for the issue. If possible, quantify the impact. Are you solving the right problem? If not, then restate the problem. Spend most of your time on this first step.

Aim for a specific and measurable solution to the problem.  A clear goal will keep your team aligned and focused, leading to stronger team ownership for the problem and solution.

Solve the problem, now that you’re ready. Idea generation is a creative process. Once you develop a variety of solutions, choose the best solution that will achieve your stated aim and that is attainable.

This step-by-step process works! One of my clients is a company with about $30M revenue per year, and I facilitated this process with their leadership team. The initially stated problem was quite broad. We focused on just the problem and its effect and were able to funnel down, to define a more pressing issue. After restating the challenge, the goals and solutions flowed with greater relevance.

With another client, I ran non-negotiable exercises with their senior leadership team. The results laid the foundation for a new way of viewing customer service. They linked their goals, values and roles into one team non-negotiable: Excellence in Customer Service. This then led to the team possessing clearly defined common goals and a revamping of their roles on the leadership team.

These three non-negotiable practices demand a true commitment to work together to make these changes. It takes patience and strong leadership. That is why they are called the non-negotiables.

When a leadership team is not aligned, the employees see it, talk about it and results suffer. You’re your team is aligned, it is seamless and almost invisible, yet the company will make beautiful symphonic music with scalable and sustainable results.

Author

  • Larry Prince is CEO of PrinceLeadership, a New Jersey-based business consultancy that works with small and middle market companies to create growth and sustainability. Contact him via email at larry@princeleadership.com.

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