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Common Alignment Challenges for Start-Ups (Deep dive - Alignment & Growth)

Alignment is critical for Start-Ups, because it has a tremendous impact on business and, yet, it is challenging and often overlooked or taken for granted. Some of the issues that need to be solved include how to remove barriers for alignment between functions, founders, and leadership, and how to make alignment a priority for your Start-Up. Even more, it must be an ongoing investment for continuous course correction for long-term success. 

Additionally, Start-Ups often operate in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment which adds to the complexity of maintaining alignment among teams and team members. 

Here are some of the more common barriers to alignment and how you can address them. 

Lack of Clear Vision and Mission

Alignment starts with a clear and shared understanding of the company's vision and mission. When these are not well-defined or communicated effectively, employees may have different interpretations of the company's purpose and goals.

Your vision is the GPS by which your Start-Up operates while your mission is how you “travel” in and reach your business destination. How fun the ride will be depending on who you travel with and their core values.

Founder-Driven Decision-Making

Some Start-Ups rely heavily on the founder's decision-making, which can lead to misalignment if team members do not fully understand or buy into that vision. It also means team members rely on and wait for direction rather than feeling empowered to make decisions in their daily work. This leads to a reactive vs. responsive culture overall. 

Culture and Values Misalignment

Differences in values and culture among team members can lead to misalignment, affecting collaboration and overall team cohesion. 

A quick mini-Blooper story… when a prominent company leader was wondering out loud about why the culture had changed in their company, a team member pointed out that values drive culture. The leader then went into his personal values rather than recognizing the company values should be the foundation for organizational behavior. 

Lack of Process and Structure

Start-Ups may prioritize agility and flexibility over establishing formal processes and structures. While this can be beneficial in some ways, it can also make it harder to create alignment around workflows and decision-making. Essentially, choose your hard–either take the time to establish operational procedures now or you'll have more work to do in sorting out the chaos later and then establishing those operational workflows. 

Lack of Accountability

Drifting teams and team members without goals, expectations, and accountability will infect the organization. Without clear accountability measures in place, it can be challenging to ensure team members are aligned in terms of their responsibilities and expectations. When this lack of accountability is present in even one team or one team member, every team and potentially every team member becomes affected. This is a contagious challenge that is preventable. 

Communication Gaps

Effective communication is crucial for alignment, but Start-Ups may struggle with communication gaps due to decentralized teams, remote work, or a lack of structured communication processes. Whether communication is formalized through all-hands meetings and regular updates or happens more casually through the grapevine, you want to shape the narrative and make sure there is accuracy and cohesion in what your team members are hearing.

Pro tip: in the absence of information, it is a human tendency to fill in the gaps to feel like there is context and understanding. However, this can mean there are as many interpretations of a situation as there are team members. 

Collaboration Gaps

Cross-functional collaboration is critical for alignment; unfortunately, cross-team meetings, workshops, and engagement does not usually happen frequently enough because it is an expense. However, a collaborative environment enables the ability to build, manage, and maintain your systems, your products, your eXperiences, and, ultimately, your value continuum. In the largest sense, the value your Start-Up provides is your revenue engine. Collaborate to generate (opportunities and revenues).

Rapid Growth and Change

Start-Ups often eXperience rapid growth and change, which can lead to shifting priorities and strategies. Keeping everyone aligned when the company's direction is constantly evolving can be like herding cats. However, a clear and cohesive onboarding process for new team members can help as well as consistent communications and measuring company performance against your values.  

There are enough challenges to be tamed in the greater business environment without having internal challenges eroding your morale, outcomes, and, ultimately, bottom-line. 

Take the time to solve challenges that are internal to your Start-Up so you can focus on what really matters–long-term success. 


Happy sharing and enjoy the read!


About Jessica Sundstrom

As a multiple-time CMO and CRO, Jessica Sundstrom is known for her ability to cut through the noise to get to what’s essential for achieving business targets. Her philosophy is that business success is made possible by people working together with shared values toward a common vision while contributing their personal best. 

Image source: Photo by Brecht Denil on Unsplash