Despite taking advantage of established learning from other industries, quality improvement initiatives in healthcare may struggle to outperform secular trends. The reasons for this are rarely explored in detail, and are often attributed merely to difficulties in engaging clinicians in quality improvement work. In a narrative review of the literature, we argue that this focus on clinicians, at the relative expense of managerial staff, has proven counterproductive. Clinical engagement is not a universal challenge; moreover, there is evidence that managers—particularly middle managers—also have a role to play in quality improvement. Yet managerial participation in quality improvement interventions is often assumed, rather than proven. We identify specific factors that influence the coordination of front-line staff and managers in quality improvement, and integrate these factors into a novel model: the model of alignment. We use this model to explore the implementation of an interdisciplinary intervention in a recent trial, describing different participation incentives and barriers for different staff groups. The extent to which clinical and managerial interests align may be an important determinant of the ultimate success of quality improvement interventions.