7 Ways to Build Collaborative Leadership

More so today than at any other time in history, businesses that foster a collaborative environment are winning the race to competitive advantage. In fact, the evolution to a flatter, less hierarchical structure can be seen at all levels of society:

  • Families are more likely to have a family meeting to decide upon important issues than to toe the line as dictated by the ‘head of the family’
  • Increasingly, people are helping to formulate discussion in government through online petitions
  • Even in the publishing world, the growth of self-publishing and e-readers has empowered people to choose what to read rather than be told what to read by big publishing houses

The benefits of a collaborative leadership approach

A more collaborative approach to leadership in the organizational environment has several advantages and benefits, including:

  • With decision-making jointly owned, so too is the organization. This sense of ownership encourages greater commitment to the common goal. A 2014 Stanford Study found that collaboration leads to people sticking to a task 64% longer than those undertaking a task alone.
  • Greater willingness to accept responsibility.
  • A more open and honest environment where ideas and views are discussed freely.
  • Greater flow of ideas and information producing more informed decision-making and comprehensive solutions.
  • Better teamwork across the entire organization with elimination of internal destructive competitiveness. In fact, according to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity at Babson College, companies that promote collaborative working are five times more likely to be high performing than those that don’t.
  • Leaders of the future are more easily identified from within, reducing cost and ensuring leadership continuity.

In an environment of collaborative leadership, organizational change is more easily affected and creates a more caring business. However, shifting to an organizational philosophy that benefits from all the advantages of the collaborative leadership approach takes time and effort. You may also find some resistance (some people may be resentful at the ‘delegation of leadership duties’). Collaborative leaders will need to be adept at conflict resolution (care-fronting instead of confronting, for example) to arrive at solutions acceptable to all.

What characteristics do collaborative leaders have in common?

In a study of 55 organizations, researchers identified five characteristics that all successful leaders enable:

1.     Leaders sponsor collaboration

It is crucial that leaders lead by example, supporting collaboration and making it a core value of the organization. Whatever the size of your organization, it is essential that your leaders generate a perception of collaboration from the top down, instilling it as a shared vision with benefits for all.

2.     Leaders and managers coach actively

The art of collaboration is to embed a culture in which knowledge and experience is shared. However, the study found that collaboration was higher in those organizations which had less formal mentorship and coaching programs. Where leaders and managers are active in establishing ongoing coaching and mentorship because it is something that they want to do rather than something that they must do, collaboration improves within teams and across the organization.

3.     Collaborative leaders build a community

When people feel connected, collaboration improves. Building a community within an organization requires deep thought and planning. It transcends all cultural elements, from leaders managing by example, to communication tools and practices, and even to how you design your building. For those organizations with a high number of remote workers, collaboration tools should enable people to meet at a ‘virtual water cooler’.

4.     Leaders are relationship- and task-oriented

Leaders must communicate tasks clearly, and when doing so they must clarify roles and responsibilities. The collaboration process starts here, by empowering people to discuss their roles and develop a joint approach to moving forward.

However, collaboration relies on relationships. Therefore, collaboration is inspired best by leaders who are good at developing and maintaining relationships with their people and creating the environment in which colleagues develop close working relationships.

5.     Roles are defined clearly, tasks are ambiguous

Although it sounds counterintuitive, the research found that people collaborate better when their roles are clearly defined and accompanied with task ambiguity. This engenders collaboration as understanding of the task improves and people work together to overcome challenges and create shared solutions.

Role clarity reduces friction, as people work together to complete tasks that need to be done.

Resetting your organization for collaborative leadership

Here are seven tips to build an environment that embodies these characteristics of collaborative leadership within your organization:

1.     Build a bridge of trust

Without trust, the collaborative leadership approach will fail. This is the first area in which the leader must lead. Trust is a two-way street, and people who are trusted tend to trust. Encourage your leaders to have trust in their people.

Even in globally remote organizations, leaders can develop trust. Communication is the key here, and it is essential that leaders understand:

  • How people with different cultures communicate
  • That there are differences in cultural values
  • That effective communication styles must be developed

Organizations must agree communication standards, such as acceptable communication methods and how meetings must be conducted, how conflicts will be resolved, and the decision-making process.

An effective way to kickstart the trust building process is to send a motivational email. An example of this is the email that Howard Shultz sent to all 190,000 Starbucks staff in response to a hefty fall in the stock market. He explained that the company’s plans would not be affected by the decline in the stock price, and cited reasons to be confident in the company’s future. He signed off, “I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.

2.     Encourage the adoption of a shared purpose

There are many challenges that face leaders today, including the challenges of leading multigenerational organizations. Many of these challenges have their roots in the differences between generational values, which can develop into workplace relationship issues.

Leaders no longer lead by command and control. Instead they encourage the adoption of shared values and visions as a motivator of performance. The collaborative leader communicates the future vision through commitment to it. He or she is passionate about the organization’s values and mission and that passion permeates across a flatter organizational structure.

3.     Develop diversity

Collaborative leadership encourages everyone to participate in problem solving, and diverse teams produce more meaningful and long-lasting solutions to problems. The collaborative organization benefits from a range of views, skills, experience and ideas from people working toward the common goal.

However, developing diversity does not simply happen. Organizations must identify opportunities to improve diversity, and leaders and managers must encourage diverse workforces to collaborate effectively. Employing diversity icebreakers will help to develop understanding and encourage inclusivity.

Managers should also be coached to help their employees understand that colleagues from different cultures have different behaviors, thoughts, assumptions and values. These cultural characteristics are, of course, among the strengths of diverse teams – but they must be harnessed effectively.

(Read our article ‘6 Reasons Why Successful Change Hinges on Cultural Diversity’ for more insight into the power of workplace diversity.)

4.     Accept and encourage initiative

Leaders show initiative, and encouraging ownership of problems and their solutions is to encourage initiative. Accept that people should take calculated risks. Encourage creativity and self-improvement. People want to make their jobs as easy as possible. Accept that a degree of risk-taking is necessary to drive change for the better.

One area in which employees excel when initiative is encouraged is sales. When salespeople are allowed to act outside a rigid formula, you’ll find that they are better able to create a collaborative partnership with their customers. Instead of selling the features of the product, your salespeople will sell to beliefs, values, feelings and need. Trust will develop faster and grow stronger, and sales numbers will follow.

5.     Be information sharers, not information hoarders

Flatten the hierarchy by sharing information across all organizational functionalities. Involve people with information and you encourage ownership and collaboration. Your organization will become more adept at change and better at decision-making. Information is no longer power, but rather a tool of inspirational leadership. Share information and you build trust, openness and honesty.

6.     Create transparency in decision-making

Collaborative leadership requires the sharing of information and responsibility. This empowers an organization’s people to contribute to the decision-making process. Collaborative decision-making leads to commitment to implement discovered solutions. Less time is wasted in conflict management, and more energy is focused on understanding the challenges that influence the business. Transparency of decision-making leads to buy-in and acceptance of responsibility for effectiveness of solutions.

To educate and engage with their employees, leaders must include all team members in a joint effort toward a common goal. Key strategies to develop collaboration include transparency, compassionate communication, and building networks. Such strategies help to break down traditional organizational hierarchies and help develop the sense of the shared ownership that creates collaborative teams.

7.     Understand that conflict can be constructive

Diversity will inevitably lead to conflict. Create an environment where constructive conflict is accepted as part of the decision-making process. This conflict must be managed, and will then inevitably lead to greater insight as feedback is sought and given. Constructive conflict will aid creativity, innovation, and problem solving.

Collaborative leaders understand that people handle conflict in different ways. These conflict management techniques are:

  • Avoidance
  • Competition
  • Accommodation
  • Compromise
  • Collaboration

The best of these approaches is collaboration, though it must be facilitated by the manager. Doing so successfully requires elevated emotional awareness – to know others (and gauge and manage response), you must first know yourself.

For details of the Forward Focus Management Development Series, contact us today and discover how collaborative leadership will drive your competitive advantage through the 21st century.

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