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How to Stop a Train—Lack of Alignment

Alignment – Your Essential Guide to Avoid Train Wrecks in Business and Life
A freight train is a hurtling 20,000 ton, 2 mile long, 200 freight car mass of rolling steel moving on a narrow 4’8.5 inch wide track supported by an infinite number of rustically cut wooden ties.

Trains to tracks—an amazing example of alignment.

Running a train is about precise alignment—wheel to rail, speed to curve, cargo weight balance—plus hundreds of tiny details critical to keeping the train on track. 

Railroads maintain crews 24/7 inspecting tracks and processes.  A system of constant vigilance is fundamental.

Alignment in organizations is just as critical to keep the train running—alignment of people, systems, technology and goals keep the train moving forward and avoid derailment and the ultimate train wreck. When the numbers are not met, when misdirection and confusion block forward movement, when revenues and sales fall short, the real issue is most often a lack of

Organizational Alignment.

Most organizations lack essential alignment. 

Like a train, an organization is complex.  In order to be aligned to move people and processes forward, organizations must be aligned in where they’re going and how they’ll proceed.  It might seem that this is obvious, but key people have quite different understandings of the strategy and mission and how they lead their teams can be in total conflict with each other and the organization.  Major parts of the organization that are not aligned in people and systems are often in danger of derailment.  

We see lack of alignment particularly in organizations and careers that have meteoric rises to success in high growth environments.   Organizations on a high growth trajectory are overwhelmed by growing revenues, numbers of employees, and a leadership team that is struggling with coordinated, aligned leadership.  You can visualize it like this:  The high-growth organization begins with just a 1 percent deviation from perfect alignment.  At the end of 18 months of hyper-growth, that organization is at least 20% off alignment and people are, as a result, predictably complaining that:

  • I don’t get the same message from my manager as what the CEO says.
  • The culture used to be great…now it’s toxic.
  • Senior leadership isn’t moving in the same direction; they don’t know what they’re doing.
  • I don’t know what my priorities should be.
  • Teams don’t collaborate; we’re all in our silos.
  • Our Glass Door reviews used to be great; now they’re lousy.

Organizations in the 21st Century must manage by alignment principles—aligning plans, people, technology–to the organization’s goal. 

The principles of Alignment Based Management, a concept we have developed over several decades, will solve any of these problems and propel an organization to success.  Process improvement and total quality management saved global manufacturing and are responsible for people being fed and supplied today.  Alignment Based Management revolutionizes how the people factor is maximized in organization.  It is the new process improvement for people processes.

Alignment Based Management—the New Process Improvement for People Process

Here is how Alignment Based Management Work:

  1. The Leadership Team—Alignment From Individual Star Players to a Winning Team.  The key to alignment based management is the leadership team.  These are the key leaders.  They will determine the success of the organization. 

    Organizations make huge investments in bringing the best group of executives around the table possible.   They pull out all the stops on expense and time.  Yet bringing the best team members around the table does not make a team.  Each team member comes from a different culture, upbringing, value assumptions, and have been successful in organizations with very different approaches.  It is often true that they do not have the same agendas.

  2. Alignment—Finding the Common Game Plan.  It’s important to explore individual team experiences.  How do I understand the mission of the organization and the current  strategy?  What have been my experiences in this and other organizations?  What do the numbers tell me?  How is all this feeling in my gut?  What’s lacking in our current alignment?  What can we build on? 

  3. How Are We Aligned as Leaders?—What Does the Organization Tell Us? The key element in everything that improves is measurement.   No month passes without a financial statement.  Yet performance management is at best a guess and a judgement from senior management.  Alignment based management is based on data and numbers.  How well is my team doing based on how the rest of the organization sees them? Alignment based management uses regular 360 degree assessments  and similar assessments to track progress.

  4. Game Plan Management—How Alignment Happens.  Often for the first time, the leadership team has data it can act on to tell members of the team where there are problems, challenges and opportunities.  With this data, members of the team chart a personal and team strategy to align purpose, situations, and direction to catapult the organization and their careers.

  5. Taking the Leadership Team to the Finals—with Professional Coaching.  Working as an aligned team, as in any top performing team, leaders continue to advance their game with professional coaching.  No team ever won without the right coaching.

Alignment based management begins with the leadership team and permeates every aspect of the organization.  As process improvement looks for bottlenecks, alignment based management looks for the aspects of the organization that “don’t fit” into the rest of the organization, often people, teams, systems and technology that don’t allow the organizational train to move forward without derailment.  Alignment is the key to organizational success today.  Alignment based management is how you achieve it.

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