How to Create the Kind of Team Unity That Drives Results

Unity is the state of many acting as one. It is an attribute of highly effective teams, whether in marriage, business, church, or government. Without it, progress stops.

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That’s why creating it—and preserving it—is so important. It is one of the most fundamental functions of leadership. But too often leaders are unclear in their understanding of unity.

For example, I was recently speaking with the pastor of a large church. He was extolling the virtues of his leadership team. He remarked, “I am really blessed with unity in my team.”

However, I had spoken with several of his team members who disagreed with his vision and strategy. They were simply afraid to speak up. Why? Because the pastor had a history of shutting down debate and emotionally punishing anyone who resisted his leadership. The pastor mistook acquiescence for unity.

Are you guilty of this as well?

If you are going to be effective as a leader, it is important for you to be able to discern the difference. There are actually three levels of unity:

  • Acceptance. This is the first and lowest level of unity. People acquiesce to your leadership without protest. They may or may not agree, but they decide to go along because the cost of objecting—whether real or perceived—is too great.
  • Agreement. This is the second level of unity. People agree with your direction and generally support it. But they are not personally invested or committed to making it happen. You have their minds but not their hearts. This is why you may not experience resistance, but you can’t seem to make things happen.
  • Alignment. This is the third and ultimate level of unity. People are with you. They are fully committed to making your common vision a reality. They also have your back and the backs of their teammates. They voice their support in public and their concerns in private.

By the way, you should know that your teammates can be aligned without being in agreement. (I got this insight from a seminar Gap International puts on called “The Alignment Intensive.” It was the best leadership investment I ever made.)

This happens all the time. The leader proposes a course of action, the team discusses the pros and cons. The leader listens and says, “Okay, thanks for your input. I understand your perspective, but here is what we are going to do.”

Generally speaking, if people trust their leader and believe they have been heard, they have no problem aligning themselves with him or her. But it is up to you, as the leader, to create this alignment. It doesn’t just happen.

How do you do so? Let me suggest five steps toward alignment:

  1. Discuss the three levels of unity with your team. Print out this blog post and discuss it at your next staff meeting. Your entire team needs to work together to create alignment, so that you don’t settle for mere acceptance or even agreement.
  2. Clearly articulate your vision, strategy, or program. You can’t expect alignment if you haven’t clearly articulated your direction. Too often leaders assume they have communicated when they haven’t. You can’t communicate too much. Force yourself to be clear. Explain your rationale.
  3. Create an environment that is safe for dissent. Once you have communicated what it is you want to accomplish, ask for feedback. Don’t get defensive. Encourage debate. Hash it out. Fold as much input as you can into the discussion. Be a learner. Make your idea better.
  4. Take time to consider your decision. If it’s a big decision, you might want to take a day or so to think about it—even if you think you know the answer. This gives you an opportunity to weigh everyone’s comments. It also makes you look thoughtful.
  5. Announce your decision and ask for alignment. You can’t coerce alignment. Instead, you must ask for it and enroll people. For example, I announce the decision and then go around the table and ask, “Jim, can you align with this decision? How about you, Lindsey?” and so on. It is important that people feel they have a choice and voluntarily align. Buy-in is critical.

Don’t leave the room until everyone is aligned. When you get it, declare it and then walk into the project, confident that you have laid the foundation for success.

Also, keep in mind that alignment is an ongoing process. Don’t assume that just because you achieved initial alignment that your team will stay aligned. It won’t.

Just as running over a big rock in your car can throw a wheel out of alignment, so hitting an obstacle with your team can throw it out of alignment. When this happens, get back together and talk out the kinks. Though this takes time, it will save you time and effort in the long haul.

My friends at Gap International say that “alignment is the leader’s work of art.” Indeed it is. The more you practice it, the better you get at creating it.

Question: What would alignment make possible for your organization as you enter into the new year ahead? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Patricia Zell

    Thanks, Michael, for this post. As a teacher, I have to practice leadership in my classroom–sometimes alignment can be a real challenge. For students to learn what they need to know, they have to buy into the work I’m asking them to do. Your second, third, and fourth points are directly related to the classroom–for example, I constantly explain my rationale to my students, and that has helped them take the work seriously. I’ve been known to change aspects of assignments when students disagree with I give them to do, and they appreciate that flexibility. As a result, I am seeing most of my students getting to work and am seeing a lot of improvement.

    • Sundi Jo Graham

      That’s great that you are allowing flexibility and building relationships and communication with your students. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      I didn’t even think about applying this in the classroom. Thanks for filling in the gaps. What a great example!

      • Kldesaulniers

        I, too, read this blog daily as a public classroom teacher and often apply strategies and consider principles as to how they can be implemented with my intermediate-aged students.  Also, I greatly appreciate the realism in the blog topics and how they apply to daily life.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I’m so glad to hear that. You made my day!

    • Cheri Gregory

      Patricia —

      I used to be a much more inductive teacher, especially when I taught junior high. My attitude was, “Trust me, and we’ll all end up on a great adventure!” 

      Like you, I’ve found #2-4 to vital, especially now that I’m teaching high school seniors. Their attitude is often, “Until you give me reason to trust you, I’m staying right here!”

      A couple of years ago, I had my English IV class work with Romeo’s  balcony speech so we could later contrast it with a Hamlet soliloquy. I knew that I was “activating prior knowledge.” My students felt like I was wasting their time. Dragging them through something they’d already done once before. One of them even wrote, “Romeo and Juliet during our study of Hamlet?  REALLY?!?”

      Because I failed to make the WHY (both the immediate and longer-term!) clear, we were all stuck.

      • Patricia Zell

        Cheri, I also tried Romeo and Juliet with seniors and it didn’t work out. So, what I’ve settled on is Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing as the plays where I compare Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies. I was not too successful with Macbeth this first semester, but yesterday, as I was perusing our book room, I found the play with the modern version opposite the original version. That shoud be a big help. I am one happy teacher!

        One of the biggest issues I have had has been with research papers/projects. This semester I changed the name to term papers and focused on the skills the students will need in college. That’s been my selling point–I tell my students that they may hate me this year, but next year, as college freshmen, they will really love me.

        Michael, I have often thought you would be great for professional development for teachers!

        • Michael Hyatt

          I actually have done one event with teachers. I did a full day with the facility and staff of a charter school in San Diego. It was very rewarding.

  • Jon Stolpe

    Alignment would remind our team that we’re all on the same team.  Many times employees or groups of employees believe it’s one against the other instead of one with the other.  When we align and we start believing and acting like a team, we can accomplish so much more!

    • Sundi Jo Graham

      You’re so right. It’s hard to remember sometimes that we can be on the same team and have different opinions about things. 

    • TNeal

      I worked in an environment where 1st shift and 2nd shift blamed each other for slacking or for creating problems rather than solving them. Leadership did a poor job of creating alignment. The work itself was pretty straightforward but cooperation in the work, a necessary component for the success of the plant, was almost nonexistent.

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    Some struggles I see with this is that so many people are passive because they’ve been burned in other areas. It may take a while to build trust and let your team know it’s okay if they don’t agree with you. 

    I’ve experienced telling people, “It’s okay that we don’t agree.” I ask their opinion on a project, only to find out later they told me what I wanted to hear because they were afraid of my reaction. Not because of what I had done, but because of past reactions from others. 

    • Ben Patterson

      Good observation.  I think you’re on target with following up on their opinion of a project, even after it’s been completed.  If someone shares that they had simply told you what they thought you wanted to hear then you have an opportunity to respond in a healthy way.    This helps build trust.

      • Sundi Jo Graham

        Right on Ben!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, building this kind of trust takes time, especially if you walk into a culture of fear.

  • Cyberquill

    I suppose when this country was named “United States,” what the Founders meant was “Aligned States.” 

    • Joe Lalonde

      The Aligned States of America… It has a nice ring to it.

      • Cyberquill

        Let’s write a song: “BORN IN THE ASA”

        • TNeal

          Very funny stuff!

    • Michael Hyatt

      As a matter of fact, that is the connotation I believe that they had in mind. Or to quote another famous American saying (in Latin), e pluribus unum.

      • Cyberquill

        Or to quote a famous American’s translation of this saying: out of one, many. (Al Gore)

  • Ben Patterson

    We’re arriving to alignment on our church youth staff.  We partner with another church in town for weekly programming and summer trips at the junior high/senior high level and moving our team from acceptance to alignment has been an intentional journey.

    One of the key aspects in this shift was open talk about candor and clarity.  We continue to encourage ever team member to say what they need to say at the appropriate time.  No meeting after the meeting.

    Pushing this has grown trust, authenticity, and allowed our teammates to work in the wheelhouse of their primary gifts.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you. I like “no meeting after the meeting.” I have said that, too.

    • TNeal

      Ben, your partnering statement reminds me of what’s happening in our small town among various denominations. The local pastoral leadership has stopped wrangling over theological issues that divide and started focusing on the aspects of our common faith that unite. The result of that focus coupled with prayer has been cooperative ventures in ministry. Churches have united to address broken families and the homeless situation in our community. That’s a huge step.

      • Ben Patterson

        That is wonderful to hear! Church partnerships are critical to a community.

  • Ben Patterson

    Seth Godin hits on the marketing aspect of this topic with his blog post today:

    “Building trust is expensive. You can call it an expense or an investment, or merely cut corners and work on trustiness instead.”

    Full article:

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great. I will pop over and read that shortly.

    • TNeal

      Thanks for sharing the link. Seth Godin typically arrives with a pin to pop our pat-ourselves-on-the-back inflated egos.

      • Ben Patterson

        Great way to put it!

    • Jeff Randleman

      I was just reading Seth’s post before I came here.  I made the same connection.

  • Don McAllister

    “Alignment is the leader’s work of art.”  Love that! Alignment would seem to demonstrate you have a true follower, someone who’s fully committed, and someone who’s not afraid to step out of the crowd in support of their leader. Great post!

  • John Richardson

    Alignment starts with open communication, something that is lacking where I work. I have worked with teams in the past where alignment happened and it is a joyous event. Thanks for sharing a strategy for fine tuning it.

  • Dave Hearn

    I was just talking about this with a co-worker this morning.  I think we’ve gotten so caught up in our own “lanes in the road”, we forget about the big picture and how all of our efforts are tied into a larger picture.

    Sounds like a great lead-in for a discussion on vision for 2012.  To answer your question, my non-profit is looking on starting a couple of new ventures and we need to make sure each of these are aligned with the overall vision.  Unity will help all of our ministries flourish and work together for the common mission!

  • Anonymous

    I love this! I would love to be under this type of leadership! Unfortunately, at the moment I work for a boss who has no concept of leadership. What ever vision or mission he has conceived in his mind he treats like a secret. This has lead to the lowest moral in our department that I’ve seen in ten years. 
    I learned in sociology that in order to get people to become unified as a team one of the best ways is to get them to work together on a common goal. Getting people in alignment seems to do just that! Best post I’ve read in a week! Thanks!
    Alignment in my work place would enhance our capabilities beyond anything we can currently imagine! It would also boost moral and therefore help people enjoy their jobs once again!

  • Anonymous

    Michael, Great piece!  Guidance right on the mark and you picked a great picture that embodied the essence of teamwork.  Thanks.

    Larry Galley
    U.S. Navy 11+ years

    • Michael Hyatt

      I can see why you like that picture!

  • Anonymous

    Alignment has turned our agency around. Three years ago we had problems with our public image (well-earned, unfortunately). Then we got a new branch director who listened and learned with us, worked in the field with us, stood up for us and went to bat for us. It’s truly amazing what that has done not only for our team which has tripled in size, but for our census, which has more than doubled, and our standing in the community and within our company. We don’t always agree on a plan of action, but we trust one another and know each other’s hearts, so we can agree to disagree when needed, and then go on to do the right thing for our patients. That kind of team is truly a treasure and blessing. 

  • Susan Lawrence

    Thanks! It’s important for each of us to authentically access is we’re leading in Acceptance, Agreement or Alignment. Let’s not rationalize we’re doing “enough.” Let’s do teamwork the best we can. It’s already assured to be difficult along the journey; we’re wise to set the people around us up for healthy growth through the conflicts and challenges.

  • Alan Kay

    Great post. Team unity derives from good leadership. The difference between authoritarian and authoritative leadership is significant. The authoritarian tells people what to do but doesn’t see that people will not have bought into her/his ideas, never mind become aligned. 
    The authoritative leader sells people on what to do by engaging them in the thinking process so that they buy into the key decisions (regardless of who’s making them). The authoritative leader also knows how to tap into diversity of opinion, vs. try to eliminate it. 

  • Jim Strowe

    “You can’t coerce alignment”.
    Ah but the problem with this is that IF people don’t feel safe then you will get the same “forced” alignment since people can’t disagree.

     “Jim, can you align with this decision?
    Same comment, if the team is not functioning correctly this process will more than likely also break down.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s why you have to listen and prove you are trustworthy before calling for alignment. As a leader, you are not entitled to alignment. It doesn’t happen by accident. You have to create it.

  • Curtis O Fletcher

    I have always taken the position that if I disagree with my boss then my job is to respectfully and passionately present that disagreement. Once the decision has been made I then have to align with the bosses decision, no matter which way it goes, with equal passion.
    But…you had a line in your post that is the key even though it is buried mid-paragraph:

    Generally speaking, if people trust their leader and believe they have
    been heard, they have no problem aligning themselves with him or her.

    Without trust none of this is sustainable. It might work a time or two but trust is the essential ingredient for lasting alignment.

    • Michael Hyatt

      So true. Trust is everything.

  • Jennifer

    Coming in behind a former leader who used manipulation and flattery as leadership tactics makes it doubly hard to establish trust in an organization.  I’d so much rather build something from the ground up, before the environment has been polluted.  Also speaking as a teacher, I wish I’d had this article at the beginning of the school year!  =)

  • Barry Hill

    Good stuff.  Many of us who lead teams of people assume that because we are “in charge”, and that we are all in the same room, that we are creating team unity. But, like you said, your team unity needs to be as intentional as the goals that you are unified to reach. Unity is not something that you are “done” either! In my experience unity needs continual attention— you don’t need to be a slave to it, but you need to be aware of it’s dynamics! Thanks for bringing it up again for us!

  • Spencer McDonald

    Thanks Michael. This is actually something that was new for me. I believe it will deepen my groove as a leader.

  • George

    Michael, I enjoyed reading your post, but I do have one thought concerning the pastors staff at a large church you were dealing with. You stated that you spoke to “several of his team members who disagreed with his vision and strategy. They were simply afraid to speak up.” To me it seems that these staff members IF they did not agree with the Vision of the pastor ought to have enough character to step down and find a place where they can serve, where they do agree with the vision. 
    The reason for this is that people can pick up on whether one is “all in or just going along.”
    I believe that this is a lack of character on their part.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Probably true, but unfortunately, people do what they do not what they should do. Courage is a rare thing, especially when people’s livelihood is at stake.

  • Brandon Weldy

    I appreciated your comment about alignment being an ongoing thing. Many times we think that just because everyone is aligned or with us one day we never have to work at keeping them there. It is an important relationship that needs to be cultivated continually. It reminds me of marriage. So many people prep for that one day, making everything perfect but never focus on what happens afterward. The wedding is important, you pledge yourselves to each other. It is a beautiful thing. Now that the wedding has happened the pledging continues every single day, or it all falls apart. 

    • Jeff Randleman

      Right.  The aligning event (or wedding) is simply the start of the process.

  • Lori Tracy Boruff

    This post is ironic. Having started a job with an upper cervical care doctor – it’s all about alignment! When the body is in alignment – it heals and operates like it was designed to.  The blood and oxygen flows, overall health improves.

    I’m seeing some misalignment in our office and will talk to the doctor using this approach. I expect to see improvement in effeciency and communication. Also I believe our vision will improve.

    Great post as always Michael!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Lori. There are tons of examples from nature about alignment. The body is a great one.

  • Enrique Fiallo

    I agree that alignment is critically important for a team to work well together and be effective in delivering successful outcomes. In The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Leoncini ( describes the 5 layers of an effectiveness pyramid for teams, that Michael describes here. At the first layer (the bottom, and foundational level) is trust and vulnerability. If team members can’t trust each other (and the leadership) and become willing to be vulnerable with each other, they can’t move on to the second layer, healthy conflict and debate, which is necessary to make decisions, resolve issues and get alignment. If they don’t feel they can engage in healthy conflict and debate (or the leader stifles it), then they can’t get aligned (even if they don’t get to total agreement) on a specific solution. If they can’t align, then they won’t be able to move on to the third layer, which is commitment. If they cannot get to commitment, then they cannot move on to the fourth layer, which is accountability (holding themselves and each other accountable). Finally, if they cannot hold themselves and each other accountable, they cannot move on to the fifth and final layer, which is a focus on Team results. When teams are dysfunctional and cannot achieve a focus on Team outcomes and results, it’s every person for themselves, and the focus switches to individual results(I, Me, Mine). Great topic!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for amplifying this topic with the example from Lencioni. Good stuff!

  • Daren Sirbough

    If we had alignment in our Church music team we could do so much! Church-wide though we need that alignment to come through.

  • Lisa

    Great resource full of excellent ideas.  Thanks for sharing!

  • David Brownlee

    Excellent insight into leadership. Your explanations are right on! Love the, “Three “A” – migos.”

  • Ed Going

    I have run large customer service organizations and have always enjoyed creating and rolling out employee incentive programs. At first I thought since I was the leader, that all the ideas had to come from me.  After a few not so successful programs, I came to realize that the really good ideas had to come from those that would ultimately be responsible for the success of the programs.

    I may have still come up with the end goal, but the group would be the architects of the programs.  By having them participate, I got some great creativity and buy in going forward. We were able to make tremendous strides and improvements in the department’s overall success. 

    I am a firm believer that any problem can be solved by involving those that do the job everyday. 

    • Enrique Fiallo

      Great perspective. Thanks for sharing it. You are describing how a group creates unity by owning the solution. Once they own it, they will do everything in their power to make it work. In this manner, teams learn that they can succeed together and do things they could never accomplish on their own, and that empowers them.

  • Genie

    Thank you for the, as usual, very helpful insights.  Wish there was a place to unpack this a bit further and ask some questions, but it’s still helpful!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Ask away! That’s what the comments are for.

  • Dr Ryan Hosley

    Great thoughts.  Thanks for the practical tips on building unity.  I have saved this post and will use it for sure!  I appreciate Lencioni’s perspective as well as outlined in 5 dysfunctions of a team.  Specifically his encouragement to create a safe environment by sharing at a deeper level – sharing something that makes you nervous.  In some of my work with teams we spend time doing this and find it incredibly helpful to fostering unity. 

    • Enrique Fiallo

      The sharing something exercise you describe is an excellent way to break down barriers and begin to develop trust. In using this particular exercise, I have been blown away and moved when people have become vulnerable and shared their personal sides. I have seen teams start to become TEAMS right before my eyes.  

  • Revjmckee

    Great post! I’m going to use this with our church staff first of the year. I have a great staff & we seem to be able to work quite well together but there’s still room for improvement with ALL of us including me! Thanks again!

  • Jeff Randleman

    Great stuff.  I believe that #2 is critical:  communication is key!  Without clearly communicating my vision my team doesn’t know what I expect.  But it works in the opposite direction as well; my team needs to communicate with me so I know where they are at in everything we do. 

    I crave their ideas and input.  I’m smart enough to realize that I’m not smart enough to do this all on my own.

    Unity is tough to accomplish sometimes, but when it is evident it can become contagious.

  • Toddsandel

    Awesome post! For deeper study into this, your followers can read Patrick Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Fantastic read and theory of team leadership.

  • Stefanie

    Great article!  Thanks for sharing!  I seek unity on a small scale as in my marriage and with my dance partner.  I think this applies to these situations as well as in larger groups.  Real pearls of wisdom you have shared here.  I appreciate it!  -Stefanie

  • Jason Raitz

    Fantastic thoughts that so many leaders need to hear. Reminds me of Daniel Goleman’s great leadership book, Primal Leadership…Learning to lead with Emotional Intelligence. Wish many more leaders thought this way!

  • Bmwbear129

    Wow!  I work for a local fast food restaurant and my main frustration is people not getting the picture we need to all be in the same book and on the same page.  As a Christian I am beginning to accept people more for who the are and what they are capable of, however it is difficult when they cannot even understand that this more than just a place to receive a pay check.  Unity is important in all aspects of live, even in the food industry.  When unity is present it attracts those who desire it for their lives as well.  Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom, perhaps my boss will like to see this too, as I am sure he stands for the same values!

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  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks Mike! This is more important to a a function like internal audit which I am part of. Thanks for your valuable resource on this subject of team building.

  • Linda Worsham Todd

    Wonderful post and so true.  A true leader who is confident and cares about others will listen to  and acknowledge their teams efficiency, knowing they have nothing to lead without the team.  They  know that they are more valuable if their team is valuable.  Successful leadership cannot exist without a knowledge that one can learn something of value from every person they meet.

    I enjoyed this post…thank you

  • Majlindapriku

    Great post! Similar thoughts at

  • Travis Dommert

    Wow.  I have never experienced this kind of intentionality from a leader regarding alignment.  I imagine many people would think this is too time consuming…but what a powerful process to go around the room and secure a verbal opt-in from the leadership team on a vision, strategy, or key plan of action.  

    I can see where this would save a lot of time down the road fighting the same battle over again.  As well, if someone opted-in and later acted in a manner inconsistent with alignment, it would be pretty easy to call them on it (in private of course).

    • Michael Hyatt

      I should be clear: this is time-consuming. It is not necessary for every decision, of course. But it is extremely helpful for major initiatives. In fact, it saves time in the long run.

  • Brett Gracely

    Thank you brother.  Just what I needed to hear to start the new year on purpose with the various teams I lead and engage. God spede!

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  • Alex Barker

    Thank you Michael. This is crucial information for a young leader who will be starting a team of individuals who are all older and more experienced! 

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  • Ricardo Butler

    I’ve done this three types of unity thing as well. I use the Jesus model. I call it the 3 (the core leadership team or inner circle), the 9 (the committed ministry team, the doers), and the 70 (the congregation, the church folks that I fellowship with but do not necessary do ministry with).

    • Michael Hyatt

      I wrote a similar post here: The Leadership Strategy of Jesus.

      • Ricardo Butler

         HA HA! Nice!! Thanks Michael!

  • Andy

    Assignment: team members have to know their role in the team.

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  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing this post, Michael. It is enlightening and informational. Many times people don’t feel they can express their opinions for fear of reprisal. Having an open policy to discuss everyone’s opinion leads to growth for all involved.
    Deborah H. Bateman

  • Matthew Weathers

    Great stuff. Thanks for (re)posting the link on twitter.

  • jillian387

    Team unity is underated, we need to find more ways to allow groups to work together. Great ideas!