Closing the Alignment Gap on Your Lead Team
by Nathan Artt on May 15, 2023 4:21:31 PM
Executive Pastor at12Stone Church
Leadership Coach and Church Consultant
When the wheel alignment of your car is off just a little, you’ll feel a slight pull to the right or to the left. It takes more effort and intentional energy to keep going straight in your intended direction. It also causes more wear on the tires, causing drag, burning more energy, and lowering fuel efficiency.
It’s not enough of an issue to take it into the shop because, well, that’s a hassle, but the longer you drive that way, the worse it gets.
The alignment of your Lead Team and top staff functions in a similar way.
A slight misalignment is barely noticeable, and since relationships are good, Lead Teams have a tendency to just keep going. We don’t have time to “slow down, turn off the road and pull into the shop” for minor stuff, so we tolerate the extra wear and tear.
But what are the outcomes if that keeps going long enough?
- Energies are drained
- Communication slows down
- Expectations become less clear
- Decision-making gets clunky
- Eventually, vision drift kicks in
These seemingly harmless realities are tolerated surprisingly often. Again, you’re on the go, and “it’s working.” Yes, you can keep going like this, lots of churches do, but what does this lead to? The risk is that this slight misalignment, over time, leads to conflict. Conflict that is often described as “I didn’t see that coming.”
It’s similar to regular maintenance on your car. No one has the time for that, but it’s always a wise investment.
Your team can invest a half day three to four times a year, plus maybe one overnight retreat, to process and talk through key issues that often receive little to no attention.
Let’s take a look at some principles and topics that will be helpful in this process of achieving greater alignment.
3 Proven Principles on Alignment:
1. Alignment Begins at a Heart-Level
It’s common to immediately think of strategy when talking about alignment, usually because of differing ideas about how to achieve organizational goals. That obviously matters, but it’s first about trust.
An executive team can never be closer in organizational alignment at a vision-level than they are in relational alignment at a heart-level.
This does not indicate that friendships trump vision, but it does acknowledge that when the vision is big enough. Therefore the obstacles are daunting enough, the best teams acknowledge the value of chemistry as much as a commitment to one clear vision.
The practical truth here is that every leader has a finite amount of energy, and if too much energy must be invested to make up for lack of full trust and great chemistry, there isn’t enough energy remaining to deal with the really tough issues.
Pace and pressure are the great challengers of trust. The larger the organization grows, the faster the pace and the greater the pressure. That presses the limits of relational, team, and trust at a heart level.
A big part of the remedy is taking time to laugh, talk deeply about subjects, not on the agenda, and pray for each other in your meetings. In some of our best meetings, we would take an hour and check in on how our families are doing, specifically spouses and kids. You have to know each other to care; that builds trust at a heart-level.2. Focus on the Key Areas of Alignment
Alignment doesn’t mean there are no disagreements. Healthy executive teams disagree. It’s about how it’s done and the outcomes. Conversations can include intense differences of opinion, but always with respect. And at the end of the meeting, or a few meetings, you are all on the same page.
Here are some examples of topics that deserve regular time to check alignment. It might take you six months or a year to work through the list, with a couple of hours one time, and two-three hours another time. Just keep the conversations going.Vision
Is it a smart vision or a heart vision? I’ve consulted with churches whose vision on paper was super smart. It made sense. But as you listen to the team, there was no heart-felt burden underneath it. You know, that Nehemiah “got to rebuild the wall” kind of burden. It’s tough to gain full alignment and go-the-distance passion without burden. The strategy conversation should follow right after the vision conversation.Culture
I love William Vanderbloemen’s question in his book Culture Wins, “Who are you when you’re at your best?” (“You” in this case is plural, meaning the whole team.) The idea is to aim for the real you when shaping your culture. It’s usually not a good idea to make your staff values purely aspirational. Your basic wiring and DNA doesn’t change a great deal, so lean into the best of who you are when you are healthy, productive, and thriving together.
Is your team both healthy and productive? What are your strengths, what needs to improve? Do you agree?Ministry Philosophy
What is your approach to ministry? Example: lean ministry or a wide variety of ministries? What is your ministry bias or emphasis? Example: Discipleship or Evangelism?
What do you invest in? What do you promote? There is a lot of room here for misalignment. The most dangerous kind of misalignment is when a Lead Team divides up influence and resources so that everyone gets a little of what they like and want, rather than a united effort with much greater results. Choose a lane and run it together.Theology
This category has changed the most over recent years. In the past, elevating the gospel of Jesus Christ over any particular doctrine or theological background has been commonly accepted. Meaning, the doctrine and theological moorings are known and solid, but the gospel wins the day. That’s great.
However, in the challenging issues of current culture, the need to be aligned theologically has increased dramatically, even in the past five or so years.
We hope that the gospel will always reign supreme and be positioned at the core of the vision, but the theology that surrounds it will be challenged, and its therefore necessary to have close alignment.Financial Approach
How teams actually think about finances and stewardship rarely makes the list of important things to be aligned on. But when you consider the amount of financially related pressure that Lead Teams deal with, especially in decision-making, this is an extremely important topic of alignment.
A great way to start the conversation is to talk about who on the team is more risk-averse and who is more comfortable with risk. Each of you describes your own position. Give some real examples to illustrate and talk about why you lean the way you do. I promise it won’t take more than that to start a great conversation. But, as always, start with trust and respect!3. Mutual Voluntary Submission Wins the Day
Risking “the last 10%” of important conversations is essential.
It’s surprising how often, even with high trust, the hard parts of the conversation, the parts that put relationships at risk, are often avoided.
Sometimes it’s about fears and insecurities; less frequently, it’s about an unhealthy culture, but candidly, it's often nothing more complicated than teams don’t want to invest the energy. The agenda is long, you’ve been meeting for two hours, there is little energy and no motivation to go there.
So what gets jettisoned is what I call “the last 10%.” It’s the guts of the real conversation that is often avoided, especially in the church. It's where honesty is at a vulnerable level; disagreements take place, and sometimes with intensity. The natural, but unwise response is to avoid the conflict.
The problem with the avoidance of healthy conflict is that it slowly leads to unhealthy conflict.
The better way is to engage MVS. (Mutual Voluntary Submission.) MVS sets aside any degree of who is higher on the org chart. It embraces a choice to allow the mission/vision to have greater authority and influence than anyone at the table. MVS doesn’t disengage opinions and passion, but it sets the tone for heart-level alignment rather than the biggest voice with the most influence wins.
I hope this is helpful in keeping your leadership team closely connected and tightly aligned together.
Is your team due for an alignment check?We have been fortunate to learn from some of the largest and most innovative churches in America about what is working and creating growth; with that insight, we put together an assessment to help you and your team identify where you are in four very important areas:
1. Organizational Alignment
2. Measuring Impact
3. Engagement Strategies
4. Building Use
Take the free Church Growth Solutions Assessment along with your team and discover what opportunities for greater alignment exist for you!
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