Focus on Improving Team Direction, Alignment, and Commitment (DAC)
The list of “what makes a good leader” is a long one. It’s as if we’ve taken every positive human quality and made it into a requirement for effective leadership.
It’s time to step back and take a different approach.
Leadership isn’t all about individual leaders and their capabilities. Instead, it’s a social process that enables individuals to work together to achieve results they could never achieve working as individuals.
So how can you tell if leadership is happening in a team, in a work group, on a task force, or across the organization?
Consider the exchanges between managers and employees, the interactions among team members, the quality of relationships throughout the organization, and the enactment of organizational processes.
The best way to be more effective is to focus on the 3 elements of leadership: Direction, Alignment, and Commitment (DAC).
Direction is agreement in the group on overall goals — what the group is trying to achieve together.
- In groups with strong direction, members have a shared understanding of what group success looks like and agree on what they’re aiming to accomplish.
- In groups with weak direction, members are uncertain about what they should accomplish together, or they feel pulled in different directions by competing goals.
Alignment is coordinated work within the group and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction.
- In groups with strong alignment, members with different tasks, roles, or sets of expertise coordinate their work.
- In groups with weak alignment, members work more in isolation, unclear about how their tasks fit into the larger work of the group and are in danger of working at cross-purposes, duplicating efforts, or having important work fall through the cracks.
Commitment is mutual responsibility for the group, when people are making the success of the collective (not just their individual success) a personal priority.
- In groups with strong commitment, members feel responsible for the success and wellbeing of the group, and know that other group members feel the same. They trust each other and will stick with the group through difficult times.
- In groups with weak commitment, members put their own interests ahead of the group’s interests and contribute to the group only when it’s easy to do so or when they have something to gain.
How Do I Apply DAC to My Work?
So how do you, as a manager, make leadership happen in your organization? Here are 3 important strategies:
- Pay attention to whether leadership is happening. Start looking for evidence of DAC. By paying attention to outcomes, you will not only begin to discern where more is needed, but you will also start to see the kinds of processes and interactions that are producing the desired levels of direction, alignment, and commitment.
- Make more leadership happen. When you notice that there aren’t many leadership processes in place, create them. For example:
- Do you need to meet more regularly with your peers to prioritize work in a matrixed organization (to create more alignment)?
- When there are useful leadership processes in place, make sure people have the skills to participate in them effectively. When a new strategic initiative is being launched, will your staff be able to take part in (not just show up to) the community meetings the CEO is holding (to create more shared direction)?
- When existing leadership processes no longer seem to be producing the needed direction, alignment, and commitment, explore new ones. Does a more diverse group of people need to be involved (to create more direction)?
- Are clearer accountability structures needed (to create more alignment)? Are more honest conversations about proposed changes needed (to create more commitment)?
- Improve your own ability to participate in cultivating leadership. It’s useful to continually deepen and broaden your individual skills and abilities. With a broader repertoire of capabilities, you’ll be able to participate more effectively in a wide range of processes. Often the difficult question is “Where should I focus my development efforts?” One lens for examining this question is DAC. If there’s one place in your organization where you would desperately like to see more DAC, where would that be? What would you need to get better at doing so more leadership happens in that setting?
We’ve been using the DAC framework with people across level, sector, function, culture, and demographic for about 20 years. Here’s what you need to implement it on your team:
First, assess current levels of DAC in the group. The best way to do this is to get input from everyone involved. If you rely on just your own perspective, you’re probably missing key information. Take this quick, free assessment of DAC levels with your team to gauge the degree to which your team agrees on statements such as:
- We agree on what we should be aiming to accomplish together.
- We have group priorities that help us focus on the most important work.
- The work of each individual is well coordinated with the work of others.
- People are clear about how their tasks fit into the work of the group.
- We make the success of the group — not just our individual success — a priority.
If you learn that the group has low levels of direction, alignment, or commitment, dig a bit deeper. Some factors that contribute to weak DAC include:
- Direction hasn’t been articulated or talked about.
- We jump into tasks and projects without a plan or connecting it to others’ work.
- We don’t bring in others with relevant expertise, or manage work assignments effectively.
- Resources aren’t appropriately allocated.
- We’re unclear who is responsible for what tasks or who has authority to make what decisions.
- We see duplication of effort, or gaps where aspects of the work fall through the cracks.
- Group members don’t see themselves as having the ability or influence to address problems.
- Individuals don’t feel like they get the credit they deserve for their contributions to the group.
Identify changes that could improve direction, alignment, or commitment. There are countless ways to address the problems you find — but this is where your group can tailor efforts specifically to what matters most. You’ll want to engage the insights and creativity of the group to come up with changes to address key issues. You can also draw on outside expertise for ideas and solutions. Keep in mind that direction, alignment, and commitment are group-level outcomes. Any aspect of the group can impact them. To enhance DAC, you might need to change things such as:
- The quality or frequency of interactions among group members.
- The relationships among particular members.
- The formal or informal processes for making decisions or getting work accomplished.
- The skills of individual group members.
- Shared assumptions and cultural beliefs of the group as a whole.
Of course, the DAC approach isn’t a quick fix. But it does provide clarity and a way forward. Talk to people about where direction, alignment, and commitment are happening and where they aren’t. Enlist others in your experiments with new leadership processes, and seek input on how to improve your own capabilities.
Because leadership is shared work — at the end of the day, you can only make it happen with others.
Ready to dive deeper into DAC?
Learn more about The Leadership Conversation, our new self-directed online “Leadership 101” course with a collaborative, social format. It can help you create stronger direction, alignment, and commitment on your team.
Our flagship Leadership Development Program also teaches these skills, and more.
And don’t miss our our guidebook, Direction, Alignment, Commitment: Achieving Better Results Through Leadership.