Team Alignment: What if Your Team is Stuck?

Rope in a knot, team

Do you recognize this situation? A team is confronted with an important problem, and it has to tackle it. All team members are actively discussing and debating the problem, trying to come up with a proper solution. Everybody shares a clear will to solve this together and to reach alignment as a team. Everything that can be said about the problem is mentioned. All opinions and suggestions are brought to the table. But somehow the team cannot come to a decision. Somehow the team seems incapable of taking the last hurdle and making a final choice. The team is stuck! It develops signals of frustration and paralysis!

What do you do as a leader when you witness your team is paralyzed by indecisiveness?

Your ability to create team alignment is crucial in building business success (see my previous articles about the importance of people and team alignment). But does this mean that you always have to continue team discussions until you reach a shared decision, no matter how long it takes? No! For instance, sometimes the consequences of a decision are so extreme that a team can feel uncertain about taking this responsibility. Or, for instance, some teams can suffer from perfectionism. They try to reach the ‘perfect’ solution, but fail to find it because they are never satisfied. In these cases it will be counterproductive to keep on circling; the leader will have to step in. But is taking a decision yourself not ruining the team alignment and mutual commitment? Only if you do it carelessly! So how do you take action without damaging the team alignment? How do you do it in a way that still creates team commitment?

Here are four leadership traits that break your team’s indecisiveness without destroying team alignment and commitment:

Align with your team upfront what to do if the team is stuck

Avoid situations where you unexpectedly jump in and overrule the team. Prepare together upfront for the possibility that the team cannot come to a decision and decide on a procedure.

Make sure that all arguments / opinions / suggestions are exchanged

Indecisiveness of teams is often caused by a lack of knowing and understanding each other’s opinions, perceptions, suggestions, etc. Check actively if everything is on the table and there is no mutual misunderstanding. If not, there is still a lack of team alignment. In that case you make the team aware of it and continue to guide the team to alignment. If yes, and the team acknowledges it, they will accept you to step in and take a decision.

Focus on the common interest

Sometimes a team can get stuck because they don’t see the broader picture. Always make sure your decision is aiming at the common interest and explain to the team the broader picture. Explain why your decision is important and how it will serve the common interest.

Show that it is not about you

There is a big difference between taking the front position and keeping your team out of the wind versus showing how powerful you are and forcing your team to step into the wind. When you take a decision make sure you show your team that it is about you taking your responsibility. Not about you showing your power! Make sure you do not act based upon ego.

A striking example of these leadership traits is the way Abraham Lincoln took the lead in the decision to free the slaves, knowing his team was hesitating to take this momentous decision.

“When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation. I said nothing to anyone; but I made the promise to myself, and … to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise. I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter, for that I have determined myself. This I say without intending anything but respect for any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this question. They have been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as thoroughly and carefully as I can. What I have written down is what my reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in the expressions I use, or in any other minor matter, which any one of you thinks had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the suggestions.” (Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase (ed. 1954), 22 September 1862, p. 150)

Is your team stuck? What do you do about it? Share your comments below.

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Photo: Jack Dorsey/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Aad is an international business advisor, business transformation & people alignment expert, leadership team facilitator and executive coach. He works with leaders of multinational companies and focuses specifically on three topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and his services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization or team feel free to contact him here.

5 Comments on “Team Alignment: What if Your Team is Stuck?

  1. I use Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels and walk / coach the team up and down, creates focus on values, beliefs and purpose, removes personal agendas etc. Perfect.


  2. Pingback: Five Blogs – 26 November 2012 « 5blogs

  3. Simple, yet elusive to most people in such a spot. Well captured here. Am also pleased to see Dilts’ adaptation of Bateson’s work figure in comments. Unless we are in contact with such skills, they risk being neglected, and human potential then lying dormant when needed.


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