The adage, “it starts at the top,” represents the belief that the way senior teams interact and align around a common vision and purpose contributes to organizational success. Lack of senior team alignment often leads to many dysfunctional consequences. Some dysfunctional consequences can be mixed messages, conflicting agendas, poor direction, ineffective execution, and lack of employee engagement. To avoid these missteps, what can a senior team do better to align around the strategic vision, business priorities, and act as “one team?”

Both research and practical application with successful companies cite senior team alignment as a critical factor for achieving desired business results. Like many management principles, actually putting this into practice is often more difficult and takes a focused process. Although each senior team is different, there are many common practices that, when applied, can help improve senior team effectiveness.

WLH uses the model below to enhance functioning by gaining alignment and agreement on what it takes to achieve desired results. At the center of the model is organizational culture. The next layer represents “what” a leadership team must do to define and execute its strategy. The outer circle focuses on team dynamics, or “how” the work of the team gets done. The ability to communicate with candor, provide honest feedback, leverage diverse points of view, and make decisions are all critical to overall leadership team effectiveness and the creation of one team.

Senior Team Alignment Framework

When working with senior teams we often start with a diagnostic process that includes both an instrument and qualitative interviews to determine how the team is functioning. During this phase, the focus is on what is working and what is not working. Specific team and individual style assessments are often used to better understand the make-up of the team and its overall dynamics.

Most effective senior team alignment efforts recognize the importance of dedicating time for the team to work together to align around how they will work together or “Rules of Engagement.” These agreements relate to communication preferences, decision making processes, confidentiality of discussions, and other behaviors needed for team effectiveness.
To align as a Senior team, some time should be dedicated to:

  • Clarify roles, responsibilities, and the unique contributions that each senior leader makes to the organization and each other
  • Further refine expectations for engaging others throughout the organization on defining and shaping a unified organzational culture
  • Determine how the team will make decisions going forward
  • Align on senior team Rules of Engagement; how the team will work together and demonstrate organizational values
  • Gain agreement on individual accountabilities and action plans
  • Share the agreements, strategy, and execution efforts to their teams in a planned cascade to various levels within the organization

Another best practice employed by senior teams is the use of sustainability tools to ensure agreements are reached and decision making processes are adhered to over time.  Proactively scheduling time to revisit the senior team’s progress in accomplishing strategic goals and how they work together encourages the team to stay committed to inital agreements.  It is through this process that organizational culture continues to be shaped, reinforced, and recalibrated.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.