Leadership Nudge® 350 – Organizational Alignment and Autonomy

May 19, 2021by Sandy Wilmer

With intent, we announce our decision prior to the decision actually being implemented. This offers an opportunity for discussion and alignment while still allowing ownership and autonomy.


I’m going to tell you how you can get both organizational alignment and a sense of autonomy and ownership in the organization.

Now, normally we think about these as being orthogonal. In other words, if I get more of one, I get less of the other. And so the relationship between these two looks like this in our heads.

Great alignment, low autonomy. Great autonomy, low alignment. And so those are represented by direct and report organizations where I have great alignment, because I’m telling everyone what to do. We’re marching in lockstep, organization is moving in the same direction, but there’s very little sense of ownership and autonomy.

The opposite is the “just do it” organization where we say you go make decisions. And people are taking us up on that, and they’re making decisions. But the problem there is we’re not getting very good alignment, because different groups are doing their own thing. There’s not a lot of communication and coordination.

The way you break that logjam is with intent.

So when we just do it, we’re announcing what we did after we did it. And in a just report environment we’re either asking permission or being told what to do. But with intent, the impetus comes from us. We say what we intend to do, especially focusing on decisions that we intend to make. But we make the statement prior to the actual decision being implemented, which means there’s an opportunity for the organization to self-align. And if other teams need to do supporting behaviors, they’ll come up and they’ll say that. If it conflicts with another team’s activities, they will go ahead and say that before we’ve actually made the decision. It’s a vehicle for collecting that feedback, self-correcting and coordinating feedback, before we go through it.

What we say is, people don’t need to be controlled, but they need to be coordinated. So that’s the mechanism of intent that will break the logjam so you can get both autonomy and organizational alignment.

I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge.

Sandy Wilmer