The Common Misalignment Problem in Organizations
Bill Cottringer

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” ~John F. Kennedy.

Every “group” goes through a similar progression of four stages in its development and maturity:

• Stage One: Members start out interacting with superficial “cocktail chitchat,” warming things up as an introduction of what is to come.

• Stage Two: Then the conversations eventually switch to deeper subject matter concerns and issues, like the purpose of the group and how to proceed with that purpose and other related topics.

• Stage Three: Inevitably, painful conflict surfaces which seems to tear the group apart with opposite views as to how to proceed, what the problems are and how to successfully resolve them, and how to deal with the conflict itself. This third stage is where most groups dissolve because the conflict isn’t very clear or familiar, and the solution is not yet known. Everyone is in troubled waters without a map. The conflict is usually the proverbial “elephant in the room” that everyone senses but nobody wants to talk about.

• Stage Four: It takes the courage to engage in “peak communication” to break through the conflict to get to the final stage of group development where “peak performance” can begin to achieve the elusive grand prize of abundance waiting in the wind for all its members. This is the shadow for the rest of us to aspire to join, cast by the 5% real success-shadow-makers.

Of course, every individual member of any group is also going through their own personal development journey involving these very same four-stage passages. This is flux at its busiest complexity and confoundedness. A real mess to try and see and sort out!

The real challenge of leaders of organizations, in orchestrating the organizational development progression, which will reach its end goal of arriving safely and soundly into the final stage, is to translate mind into matter by applying the following two most fundamental principles of psychology. Application of these two basic principles is the only path which will result in more successful interactions and interventions in the organizational development process through the above four stages of organizational development:

1. The primary purpose for all human beings (alone and in a group) is to learn, grow and improve in their self-development journey. This is necessary, in order to be more successful and content in solving life and work problems and meeting life’s challenges by doing the right thing in the right way to get the right results. It is especially important for each individual to become more aware of their individual responsibility of doing this and in increasing commitment to joining the teamwork that facilitates success in moving forward in the journey, primarily by each of us helping ourselves by helping others’ progress. (Please digest this last part by reading the ending quote in this article).

2. People have much in common and yet there are just as many individual differences among us. We all share this common # 1 goal above, but we all use many different means to this end in a multitude of different ways and our level, timing or place of progress in the self-development journey is never the same.

Now, add to the mix, the necessity of the organization’s leader to get functional alignment within and between all stakeholders, the leader, the mid-level managers and supervisors, the employee-workers and the “customers” in regards to the organization’s mission goals, objectives, core values and everyday activities. It is easy to see the near impossibility of controlling all these variables when they are already going on fast and furiously. It would seem you must stop the raging river and carefully redo its flow with the necessary speed and direction, with all the many elements in nature cooperating with the exact same effort. That is quite a propitious dream!

I once had the marvelous opportunity to do just this in helping build a new prison organization ground up out of nothing. But, what started out in perfect alignment from mission to activities of all those involved as well-measured for certainty, took only four short years to dissolve into misaligned incongruence that would give the worst performing organization and leader nightmares.

So, what is the practical solution for an organization and its leader to guide the organization through these four stages of development, knowing in all likelihood that they are probably closest to the conflict stage of development struggling deperately to join the Doors musical chant of “break on through to the other side?” Here are the lessons from the trenches from those who have gotten muddiest in dealing firsthand with this most complex and ornery problem of trying to guide an organization to even modest success with the necessary alignment though application of the above two basic psychological principles:

1. Acceptance: Wherever you are or whatever you are doing, it is probably best just to view this challenge as impossible, but go ahead and try anyway. There have been enough successes against all odds to keep trying. You probably won’t ever get it all under control, even if you have the opportunity to start from scratch. But that is why they call “management” management. You really can’t solve this alignment problem, but you can manage it better to keep it from destroying the organization and leaving it empty-handed in the shambles of conflict. Have the good sense and fortitude to face the inevitable conflict and the courage to communicate assertively though it to enjoy a presence in stage four.

2. Being: It is more productive to adopt a pessimistic assessment that the organization is currently worse than you want to imagine things being, especially when “customers” and employees are “complaining” with their underground actions which are noisy enough to hear past the whispers. And then you can save your optimism for meeting the huge challenge of doing something positive to manage the process better in slowing down the river, redirecting the flow and getting everyone supporting that cause with the necessary commitment.

3. Consciousness: Always be conscious of a very wise “warning” posed earlier by the leadership guru Stephen Covey in his quote, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” In this challenging spirit, here is a worthy question to find out if you have mistakenly placed your ladder of organizational success against the wrong building: Should we really call our self-growth movement “self-development” or more properly, “self-shrinking?” In doing this, maybe I am just articulating a conflict that may need resolving in helping our movement progress on through to the other side in the final stage of our movement’s development.

“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” ~Jim Rohn.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), and “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), and Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or