Phased Alignment

If there is one thing that I’m constantly encouraging my team to do it’s to get into alignment with each other.  You know, the close the door and everyone has their say, everyone debates the issue and when they leave the room they’ve all signed up to the decision and don’t break ranks.  

Sounds great!  However it doesn’t always play out that way. Even when the team is full of great professionals with the best intent, alignment sometimes cannot be achieved.  So where to from there then?

I like to use what I call Phased Alignment.  Phased Alignment is a construct which defines phases of getting a team to alignment by starting with decisions that can be simply endorsement by leadership through to (unfortunately at times), mandated by leadership.  

What do I mean by this?  Well… what I mean is I use a construct that fully empowers my team to make decisions through alignment, but if they can’t they know ultimately I’ll step in and make it on their behalf. Decision needs to be made, there’s no backing away from that.

Phased Alignment goes like this:

  • Phase 1 – Leadership Endorsed Decisions: Teams operate independently and self guided where alignment is achieved. Leadership is able to endorse these decisions.
  • Phase 2 – Leadership Guided Decisions: Teams fail to gain alignment and needs leadership input and guidance to get aligned.
  • Phase 3 – Leadership Mandated Decisions: Teams fail to get aligned and forfeits the decision making ability.

Let’s explore these phases a little more…

Phase 1 – Leadership Endorsed Decisions

Leadership Endorsed Decisions is when my team is empowered and able to work effectively together and whether it’s 1 workshop or 20, they emerge with an aligned decision ready to be endorsed.  This is the best outcome and most decisions in a high functioning team come through the Leadership Endorsed Decisions phase.  This is the good stuff.  What’s the decision? Everyone Happy?  Awesome, job done.

Most of the time we stop here, which is great news, however sometimes it really isn’t that straight forward.  Sometimes it’s because it’s a difficult subject, or that people past experiences have already formed strongly opposed views, or even sometimes its even inexperienced or (unfortunately) ineffectual staff.  

Whatever the reason, sometimes the team is not able to get aligned themselves and at that point they move out of Leadership Endorsed Decisions into Leadership Guided Decisions.

Phase 2 – Leadership Guided Decisions

In failing to get aligned themselves, the team needs guidance in the conversation from leadership.    This is the team struggling, this doesn’t mean troublesome but it does mean struggling.

Leadership Guided Decisions typically manifests itself in re-workshopping with the leadership playing an active role, in being clear in the need for alignment, the outcomes required and guiding the conversation.  Tools like Six Thinking Hats can be helpful, so can the reassurance that nearly every decision is reversible and that we’ll test and learn and review and if need be reevaluate the decision at a point in the future.

Effective leadership and high functioning teams should nearly always get aligned after the Leadership Guided Decisions, but on occasion there are team members who collectively or individually don’t or can’t respond to the leadership guidance and at that point there is no other way. The leaderships hands are now forced and it’s time to consider the discussion and options and make the decision for the team.  

Phase 3 – Leadership Mandated Decisions

This is the destination we normally didn’t want to be at.  The team has had the opportunity to get themselves aligned and couldn’t, the team then came under leadership guidance and still alignment could not be reached.  Let’s not sugar coat it, we’ve collectively failed at this point.

I try to avoid Leadership Mandated Decisions wherever possible, but what I don’t avoid is being clear to the team that alignment is required and that the team is empowered to execute on that. However and it really is a big however, if they can’t we’ll head towards leadership making the decision for them.  A decision is required one way or another.


I’ve found using the Phased Alignment Framework really helpful and teams response very well to it.  I’m able to very clearly outline my commitment to empowering teams and allowing them to make decisions for me to endorse, but at the same time if they can’t there are consequences of that because the decision is required.  

Mostly I see my teams operate in Leadership Endorsed Decisions and occasionally traverse into Leadership Guided Decisions and that’s great.  Sometimes even teams ask to start in Leadership Guided Decisions to get some extra horsepower in the process and that’s great too.  Sometimes we end up in Leadership Mandated Decisions and that is… well it is what it is.

Let’s always aim for Leadership Endorsed Decisions, they are typically the best ones, with the highest buy in and the best results.