There’s a beautiful oak tree in the median in front of our house. It’s an old live oak with branches that meander and cause us to sweat a bit during hurricane season. So far, the only issues we’ve had with it have been out front cleaning up its leaves. Early each year it drops its leaves – sometimes so rapidly that it sounds like rain – in preparation for the new growth of spring.

We’re in the middle of it again, and I took to cleaning the driveway this weekend.

The concrete had quickly become an eyesore, covered with tiny sticks and clumps of leaves, and as expected, the leaf blower made short work of them.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was the blanket of pollen that the blower lifted from the driveway and sent wavelike toward the bushes. I’d seen pollen covering our cars, but it had settled incrementally on the slab and I simply hadn’t noticed. As I realized, however, it had been there…and was thick.

The same can be said for our companies and teams. When we talk about alignment – whether the members of our organization are in agreement on our common mission, vision and values – we often think about the glaring examples where things are off-kilter, where our culture is clearly undermining our mission in some way. We may want to hold up “growth,” “progress,” or “excellence” as one coach does, but our company’s culture says that only profits and commissions matter.

But as one Fortune 500 leader said to me recently, “It’s not the obvious things that concern me. Those we can address through training or moving people to another department or removing them altogether. Or looking at ourselves as a company.” He paused and said, “The ones that give me concern are the ones that are harder to see. Not the obvious ones, the ones that sneak up on you.”

Like the pollen. Frankly, I wonder how long it would’ve taken me to realize it was all over the driveway if it wasn’t for the sticks I needed to address. Only when the pollen was blown away did I see the dramatic difference created by its absence. 

The small things can be insidious and get a foothold before we realize it. To probably continue to push the analogy a little too far, the blower took care of the pollen issue. After all, it had only been coming down in earnest for a week or so. But much longer, and I’d probably need to power wash the surface to get the stains out.

That’s one of the reasons it is important for us to always be on the lookout for misalignment. One way is to maintain open lines of communication, to talk with our teams and understand the individuals in our organizations, to be able to spot these issues that are building under the surface. Or on the surface, but tough to see – unless you are out there looking for them.

Keep revisiting the mission, vision and values. Keep speaking with your team members.

And make sure you’re cleaning things up before they can get out of hand.

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