The Value of Collaborative Leadership

The manager who seeks to keep all the knowledge within their own silo, refusing to share with others, in the hopes of retaining power, is doomed to fail.

The manager who understands that their success comes as a direct result of others working together towards a common goal will be successful.

Knowledge management is, at its core, the ability to collaborate with others. Why? Because you can’t possibly have ALL the knowledge. Every piece of information that is needed to see a project to fruition, or a company grow, does not reside in one single person or group of people.

To be successful within a project or as a company, you have to embrace collaboration as part of your operational culture. It’s through collaboration that true innovation can become reality. Creating the feeling that the collaborative environment is a safe one is important as the instinct to protect oneself and one’s knowledge is ingrained in all of us.

Turf wars don’t get the job done. Playing well with others does. Is this an oversimplification? Maybe a little, but the bottom line is that the same techniques of getting along and according respect to others that are taught in kindergarten are elements that we would all do well to remember.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration, in the context of the business world, involves working across silos, teams or any other corporate construct, in order to get the job done, uniting under an overarching goal. The point is for the focus of any team to be on the end result and engaging in actions that will move a project forward to that result. If the team, and it’s leader, is focused on jockeying for position and power, the goal will invariably be missed.

It is also more than just willingly (or grudgingly) sharing information. In other words, it’s more than playing nice. It’s about collectively and proactively reaching out to achieve an objective goal.

Aspects necessary for successful collaboration

  • Clear roles and responsibilities for all parties involved — as much as people need to disavow the idea of jockeying for power and position, collaboration only works if everyone is clear about what they are bringing to the table and how they are meant to work with others.
  • Sharing the credit and the mistakes — while any collaborative effort isn’t meant to view all participants as a single entity, it’s important that they operate as a team when it comes to the good, and the bad. If mistakes happen, it’s not wrong to drill down to find out the how, what and why. But it shouldn’t degenerate into finger pointing. Ultimately, the goal should transcend everything else. And when things go well? The credit needs to be shared among all participants, not divided on a percentage based on perceived effort.
  • Collaboration can be intensive and should be used only in situations where it can be truly helpful. If all the participants don’t see the value of the end result or how they can contribute meaningfully, it will be difficult to get some if not all to willingly take the time to share knowledge and information, to work together in a genuine way. Instead, the effort will be piecemeal and fit in to schedules only insofar as the work of individuals or groups aren’t directly impacted.

How to collaborate even when there is discord

Liking another person or group and respecting them are two different things entirely. You don’t have to like someone to appreciate that they have knowledge or abilities that your team needs. Negotiating between individuals and groups, as well as resolving conflict, are two important aspects of leading from a place of collaboration. You can’t make people like each other but you can make them see each other’s value in regards to the end game and what interest everyone has in working together, rather than against each other.

5 traits that every collaborative leader should embrace

  1. The ability to influence, not control, others — a leader who can motivate a team, influence them to participate by showing them the goals and the possible positive results will be far more effective than one who tries to control people and force them to collaborate. This kind of influence requires an element of trust: towards the leader and amongst all the people involved, from every functional group. It’s important, however, to ensure that pieces of the puzzle aren’t missed or withheld, out of fear.
  2. The ability to embrace risk — it is a much riskier process to work collaboratively across silos and even organizations: the ability to embrace this risk is essential to being effective.
  3. The ability to lead horizontally and eliminate silos — instead of only dealing with traditional constructs of direct reports and teams, a collaborative leader will seek functional expertise where it exists and not within silos or predetermined constructs.
  4. The ability to maintain clear communication — when working with new groups of people, it’s essential that communication be clear, open and transparent. Agility in decision making and functioning cannot be inhibited by traditional top-down communication methods.
  5. The ability to understand different contexts — a collaborative leader may not be an expert in every functional area that is contributing to a project, but they need to have a solid understanding of each so that they can see issues from all perspectives, but always with the view of the end goal in their sights.

A collaborative leader isn’t focused on their own position and success. They’re focused on strategic objectives that are best served by bringing together otherwise distinct groups, and they have the skills to do so with a minimum of disruption or divisiveness.

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