Leadership Alignment

Issues at the 'Top'

One of the features of the 'top' space of leadership teams in organisations is the tendency to differentiate = to respond to the complexity and responsibility by developing specialised areas of responsibility. If we are not careful these differentiations thicken and become private turfs. Territory is divided and the leadership system becomes vulnerable to breakdown around issues of unequal burden, not feeling respected, supported or trusted and struggles about direction and strategy.

Shared responsibility in this space needs:

  • A powerful shared set of principles which guide differentiated action and are owned and supported with high levels of consensus. Investing in consensus building on this can save a lot of time and speed up daily decision making. People can act with confidence that their decision will be understood and trusted as congruent with the principles.
  • A high degree of interchange ability and understanding of the whole and each other's areas of responsibility. A deepening understanding of each others worlds will sensitise people to the issues their leadership partners face and bring fresh perspectives and new approaches to the total system.
  • Act as guardians of the whole (not just your piece) and as coaches to the others believe you have responsibility for their success. Strengthen the total differentiation by retaining primary responsibility for your own area combined with committed coaching of each other that is open and willing to learn and transform the whole.

Another issue related to the high levels of complexity and responsibility at the top of organisations is the extent to which their meeting always have a packed agenda. The typical response to this packed agenda is to increase the differentiation and to rely on pre-briefing and speedy decision making to move things forward. This makes for efficient working however because there is not the time to fully give voice to concerns and hopes misunderstanding about assumptions and intentions are reinforced. Alignment breaks down.

Developing Leadership Alignment

When the sense of shared responsibility for the whole organisation at the top breaks down a programme of 'leadership alignment' can be helpful. We can expect a Leadership Alignment Process to build

  • A shared understanding of the nature of the leadership task in and through change.
  • Effective methods of resolving impasses and making decisions.
  • Changing leadership behaviours.
  • An emerging story which is consistent and aligned with few complaints which are not recognised as valuable for their diversity.
  • Clearer direction and scope for engagement with the rest of the organisation.

The process for Leadership Alignment might include

A 'Questionnaire' and Interview

The purpose of the questionnaire is to generate a lot of information and ideas related to leadership development and alignment that can be used to accelerate progress and aid resolution of issues and development of integrated ideas.

The questions are developed with one or two leaders to cover a range of topics such as;

  • Team effectiveness
  • Leadership principles
  • Leadership work

The questions are designed to support personal mastery and help self-reflection. They are not intended to be a critical reflection of other people. Where the questions relate to people and roles they are to identify patterns and support reflections on your interactions with them as part of the overall process of developing system awareness. This is not a survey. There are a large number of questions to support the use of different frames (expertise, politics, goals etc..) and accommodate diversity of expression.

People will have time to look at the questions and reflect privately on their answers. Then the answers will be collected by interview using the questions and possibly probing for more details. Answers will be noted verbatim. The interview is likely to take some 30 - 40 minutes and can be done by phone or conference call.

Once all the interviews have been conducted a composite will be made showing the aggregated answers in full. All team members will have a copy. Sets of questions which relate to particular topics of relevance to leadership alignment will be identified. People will be asked to work in pairs to trios in advance of the meeting to review the answers, engage in a dialogue and develop some integrated ideas on ways forward for the whole group. In this way various people will take responsibility for leading aspects of the workshop.

A Leadership Alignment Meeting

The design of this would be based mainly on the results of the interviews. The workshop facilitated by the members of the leadership team such that everyone is responsible for a part of the meeting and thus the success of the whole. Session which often arise as a result of this questionnaire are around:

  • Decision making
  • Roles
  • Behaviours
  • Vision, Values or operating principles
  • Organisational model or structure
  • Organisational identity
  • Strategy
  • Communications
  • Etc.

This meeting might also include a session using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to:

  • Explore and understand personal working preferences within the team.
  • Identify potential misunderstanding that can occur in the team.
  • Understand how to work together using the preferences

It might also include an exploration of power and influence. This session might look at the Seven levels of power that are generally open to individuals within organisations and the dynamics of power in the system.

Julie Beedon, VISTA Consulting Team Limited - October 2001