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Not long ago, my car started pulling to the right. I could tell it was out of alignment, but I had no clue how to fix it—I’m what you call mechanically challenged. So I took it to the professionals, who tinkered with the internal structure and systems until everything was aligned. When your car is aligned, it runs more efficiently, creates less wear and tear, and operates more smoothly.

The same is true in creating alignment and teamwork within our ministries. It takes intentionality; you never drift into alignment. People with skill know how to get down inside the organization and align its systems and structures to increase effectiveness, minimize wasted effort, and achieve greater health.

Alignment is crucial, and there’s a lot of talk in organizations today about it. We do want to make sure all our staff and ministries are rowing in the same direction. But while that’s a good and needed thing, it’s not enough.

There’s a huge difference between aligning a car and aligning an organization: It’s the difference between parts and people. Aligning a car is a mechanical process; aligning people is relational. Too many leaders approach organizational alignment as a purely mechanical process and underestimate the importance of relationship.

Imagine a magnet on a table with a bunch of iron filings. As you move the magnet around, the filings will begin to move—the force of the magnet’s power causes them to fall into place, to be aligned. A magnet creates alignment by strength, power and force.

But that is not how alignment works in an organization. People do not line up like iron filings. Force and power may create systems alignment, but they will not create heart alignment. That’s why a healthy organization must be giving attention not only to alignment but also to attunement.

Attunement has to do with aligning hearts. It’s about relationship and bringing people along. It’s about creating a sense of ownership and buy-in. I can force alignment organizationally and lead from my positional role, but attunement comes only from relationship, when those who follow us trust us and know we care about them.

This illustration shows the contrast between the focus of alignment and attunement.


Alignment

Attunement

Organizational

Relational

Plans

People

Head

Heart

Ends

Means

Where we’re going (goals)

How we get there (team)

Functional outcomes

Emotional buy-in

Cause

Community

As a leader I must learn the art of attunement. It’s a soft skill that won’t show up on an organizational chart or strategic plan, yet it can make or break an organization’s effectiveness. If there is dysfunction and distrust at the people level, it doesn’t matter how much you force alignment at the organizational level.

You can’t treat people poorly and expect them to lead effectively. Alignment tends to focus on organizational goals, while attunement tends to focus on relational good will.

So, how do you foster attunement that authentically creates emotional buy-in? Before I share some practical suggestions, let me send up a warning flare. Don’t fake it. Don’t manipulate or try to create the façade of attunement.

In his great book It’s Your Ship, Michael Abrashoff says your people “are more perceptive than you give them credit for, and they always know the score—even when you don’t want them to.”

Believe in your people. People in our generation carry around a backpack full of insecurities and self-condemnation. When is the last time you looked a team member in the eye and said, “I believe in you; I want to do everything I can to help you succeed”?

Celebrate. Shine a light on what’s right. Make heroes out of your team members. “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they do not feel appreciated.” “One poll found that an astonishing 65% of Americans reported receiving no recognition for good work in the past year.” While it’s important to publicly recognize team members, don’t forget to praise people privately and “in the moment.”

Build community. Work hard to build a sense of family among your team. We all love to work with people who have become our friends rather than simply co-workers. In your meetings take time to build relationships. Pray together. Celebrate birthdays. Go to dinner with the team and their spouses. This will pay huge dividends in breaking down silos, creating alignment, and moving the team toward attunement.

Listen aggressively. Listen to people’s ideas. Listen to their frustrations. Be accessible and approachable. Give them your undivided, unhurried attention.

Constantly communicate. Communication is a major challenge for most organizations. And as the church or ministry grows, so do the complexities surrounding communication. It really is true that people are “down on” what they’re not “up on.”

In other words, lack of communication fosters negativity and cynicism. Few things are more demoralizing than being blindsided by a public announcement about something that directly impacts your area. If you want to torpedo attunement, make decisions in isolation rather than collaboration. In a culture of attunement, people feel included, not just informed.

Have fun. There is nothing unspiritual about fun. Most church staffs I know could stand to raise the fun quotient. We all know our mission is serious and the cause is demanding. But no team can endure intensity and grueling demand all the time. Teams must learn a healthy rhythm that includes a good dose of laughter, fun and banter. You’ll be healthier for it.

I want to ask you to consider taking the attunement challenge. Spend more time this week on attunement than alignment. Focus more on people than plans. Have unhurried conversation with team members that isn’t about their leadership, but is about their lives.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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Princess Adebisi Victoria

commented on Jul 10, 2024

Thank you this Explanation about teamwork was very helpful for me. God bless you

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