How to Create Organizational Coherence in Your Workplace

Creating organizational coherence among your workplace’s teams is one of the most important contributions effective leaders can provide. Leaders clarify how it all “fits” together.

What does coherence mean in the workplace?

At its core, coherence means bringing clarity and understanding where there is confusion, disconnection, and ambiguity. In other words, it’s the teaching, facilitating, coaching, and explaining side of the leadership role. Creating organizational coherence means unifying all leaders and staff as one whole so they can align and work together towards the shared mission and vision of the organization.

Coherence is especially important in large organizations, where key decisions are often made remotely and employees are left wondering, What were the suits thinking when they made that decision? It’s the leader’s job to help facilitate the why of decisions so everyone can make sense of the changes. They keep people connected to each other; to their organization’s mission, vision, and values; and to their work.

Coherence means bringing clarity and understanding where there is confusion, disconnection, and ambiguity.

What actions can you take to create organizational coherence?

As a school board superintendent, I was able to provide leadership development opportunities to both aspiring and practicing leaders. I frequently posed challenging questions to help leaders consider the concept of added-value actions:

  • What is it that the organization gets in return for their investment in you as a leader?
  • What would your first-100-days action plan look like?
  • In what ways have you helped both individuals and your entire organization improve?
  • What impact does your leadership have on those around you?

Notice that the questions are less about important leadership traits (e.g., adaptability, integrity, empathy, creativity, vulnerability, self-awareness, etc.) and more about leadership actions and positive impact.

We appropriately spend a lot of time talking about and developing the essential traits, but they are the necessary-but-not-sufficient component of leadership development. Traits, qualities, and characteristics are the who and how components of leadership; actions are the what. We stop short if our leadership conversations fail to address the what – it’s our actions that make a difference.

Traits, qualities, and characteristics are the who and how components of leadership; actions are the what.

Think about what good leaders do for their organizations:

  • Effective leaders keep people (and the work they do) connected to the organization’s purpose.
  • They eliminate distractions and support a clear focus on what is most important.
  • They name and affirm actions that contribute to the effective execution of the organization’s strategic plan.
  • They offer real-time feedback and coaching for improvement.
  • Good leaders offer clarity to those who lack a sense of what does and doesn’t fit the expectations and desired workplace culture.

These contributions play a crucial role in advancing the organization’s mission and reaching its desired objectives.

If this resonates in terms of a way of thinking about what effective leaders do and the concrete ways they add value to their organization, you may have recognized a common theme. In each of these, the leader’s actions clarify what is confusing, complicated, or chaotic. Effective leaders provide clarity and connection – they foster alignment and create organizational coherence.

Would you identify your workplace as dynamic? Is there a constant tendency toward swirl, distraction, loss of focus, and competing priorities? In these environments, leadership actions that build clarity, connection, and coherence serve as the gravitational pull that holds things together and keeps the organization centred, moving toward its goals, and confident in the path forward.

At ACHIEVE, we believe that building a healthy workplace culture is the key to sustainable productivity. In our book, The Culture Question, there are six key leadership actions that you can take to cultivate organizational coherence:

1. Communicate your purpose and values.

Effective leaders are great teachers and communicators. They recognize their role in educating, modelling, and holding themselves and others accountable to the organization’s reason for existence (vision, purpose, mission) and its identified core values.

2. Provide meaningful work.

Actions that keep people feeling that their work is motivating, inspiring, important, and connected to personal growth goals are at the heart of capacity building, continuous improvement, and loyalty.

3. Focus on people.

Leaders recognize that people make the difference in an organization. People enable the effective execution of strategy. Too often, strategic objectives are established without considering the people expected to execute and implement.

Words like focus and alignment are key coherence enablers. Effective leaders never forget to keep their staff at the centre of strategic conversations and ensure everyone has what they need to flourish and produce at a high level.

4. Build meaningful relationships.

Effective leaders play an important role in creating a sense of connection and social coherence in their organization. When employees like their leaders and colleagues, they will be more satisfied and engaged in their work. And when each individual feels like their well-being, contributions, and presence are valued, they feel a greater sense of loyalty and commitment to each other – they are also more likely to be accountable to each other.

5. Create peak performing teams.

Synergy among teams means the interaction and cooperation of various individuals on a team produce a combined impact that is greater than the sum of their individual contributions. The leadership work associated with generating synergy includes facilitating alignment, focus, collaboration, capacity building, and internal accountability – put simply, effective leaders facilitate coherence.

6. Practice constructive conflict management.

When we speak of incoherence, words that come to mind include incongruity, unintelligibility, rambling, scrambled, disconnected. Without a pathway to constructive resolution, conflict can pull people apart and create disconnection, which is the very opposite of cohesion. Effective leaders are able to facilitate bridge building, healing, and reconnection so that the barriers created by conflict do not result in incoherence.

Effective leaders keep people (and the work they do) connected to the organization’s purpose.

Note the references to teaching, communication, inspiration, connection, focus, alignment, loyalty, accountability, synergy, collaboration, pathways, resolution, and bridge building. This is the very essence of what organizational coherence is all about.

What is the return that organizations should receive from their investment in leadership? Great leadership manifests in a coherent, connected, aligned organization in which people do good work, understand its importance, and experience a powerful connection between their work, their colleagues, and the organization they are serving.

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Mark Schinkel

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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