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What is Collaborative Leadership and Why Is It Important?

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April 9, 2021 | 9 Mins Read

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As the world rapidly changes thanks to technological advancements, so are other aspects of life.

These changes are being seen more in the workplace than anywhere else.

One aspect of professional life evolving is how executives within organisations (for-profit and nonprofit alike) manage their teams.

Leadership styles are moving from the more traditional top-down hierarchical approach to being more collaborative.

Collaborative leadership is a more effective way to manage teams. And we’ll explain why in this post.

What is collaborative leadership?

In its simplest form, collaborative leadership is an approach where managers work together with their staff and collaborate with other teams and departments. Information is shared, everyone’s perspective is considered, and everyone takes responsibility for the whole.

Collaborative leadership is unlike the traditional top-down approach to leadership in which management controls the flow of information and determines the course of action the team must take.

Major trends fuelling the rise of collaborative leadership 

Many organisations are embracing the shift to collaborative leadership, and for good reasons. Let’s quickly look at some workplace trends that are fuelling the shift to collaborative leadership.

     1. Increased need for data in decision-making

The fourth industrial revolution, commonly known as digital transformation, has equipped organisations with one of the most critical tools for success – data. Data has become an essential decision-making tool for management. But accessing, analysing and interpreting said data is usually the responsibility of less experienced employees. In some cases, it can be the responsibility of another department altogether.

This need for data in decision-making has led to a shift in managers playing more of a collaborative leadership role than an instructional role.

     2. Access to new technologies

The rise of new technologies has led to breaking down physical and metaphorical barriers in the workplace. Teams can easily collaborate on a project internally or across departments thanks to collaboration tools.

This ease of collaboration has led to leaders’ need today to become more of team players than just coaches standing on the sidelines.

     3. Appreciation of individual skills and talents

An old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In other words, while the parents are the “leaders” of the family, they still need help in raising a well-rounded child.

You can apply the same principle to your business.

No single person can lead an organisation to success. It takes a team effort. More importantly, it takes a collaborative leader who appreciates team members’ skills and talents. 

     4. Cross-functional collaboration between departments

Another factor that has necessitated the shift to collaborative leadership is the falling of barriers between organisations’ departments. The rise of cross-functional collaboration between departments has led to collaborative leadership becoming a must in most organisations. A typical example is a collaboration between sales and marketing departments. For your organisation to thrive, you must prioritise data and information sharing. This will help you offer customers a positive customer experience (CX) and boost your customer satisfaction rates. 

Again, for this to happen, you must use collaboration software. Your collaboration software must be easy to use and should integrate with your other tools. 

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Why is collaborative leadership important?

So why is it so important for you and your organisation to embrace collaborative leadership? Here are a few benefits of collaborative leadership you can’t afford to pass up:

  • Employee engagement

Employee disengagement is one of the most significant challenges leaders face. And yet, the solution is simple – collaborative leadership.

One facet of collaborative leadership is that you must be a part of the team, not above the team. This approach results in your employees trusting you more. This also increases employee engagement and reduces potential power struggles in your organisation, thanks to the feeling of having a shared purpose.

  • Boosts productivity

People in a team put in more effort when the leader is in the game with them, not just standing on the sidelines, giving instructions.

As a leader, when your team sees you in the trenches with them, it boosts their loyalty. They’ll go over and beyond the call of duty to help you achieve your goals. As a result, your organisation’s productivity is increased, and your business grows.  

  • Reduces employee turnover

Another reason collaborative leadership is essential is that it helps reduce employee turnover. With studies showing that replacing an employee can cost anything from six to nine months of their salary, reducing employee turnover is critical. 

Collaborative leadership can help you do just that.

When a leader values his subordinates and encourages diversity, employee satisfaction rates improve. As a result, you retain more employees and reduce churn.

As you can see, you must gain collaborative leadership skills if you’re to take your organisation to the next level.

5 strategies for implementing collaborative leadership

Now that you know what collaborative leadership is and its benefits let’s dive into how you can implement this revolutionary management practice in your organisation.

  • Clarify your purpose for shifting to collaborative leadership

The first step to implementing collaborative leadership in your organisation is to clarify your purpose for changing leadership styles. It would be best if you clarified this to:

  • Yourself. You must be sold on the idea of collaborative leadership yourself if you’re to sell it to others.
  • Your executive team. Pitch the benefits of collaborative leadership and how it works to your leadership team and your organisation’s stakeholders.
  • Your employees. Explain to your employees why you’re shifting leadership styles and what it means for them. You may want to use an online course creation tool to create resources that explain what is expected from them in this new leadership style.

The underpinning point is that you must know why you want to implement collaborative leadership in your organisation. 

Is it because you’ve been failing to connect with your team truly? Or maybe you’re hoping to tackle specific organisation-wide problems. Perhaps you feel a more collaborative atmosphere will boost employee morale and increase productivity. Whatever your reason, it’s essential that you clarify and communicate it well.

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  • Open up communication lines.

Opening up communication lines across your organisation is essential to implementing collaborative leadership. The success of your collaborative leadership style hinges on it.

One way to open up communication lines is to encourage speaking up. 

Create a safe environment for your team to feel comfortable giving feedback. You must also motivate your team to share their ideas. This is where collaborative leadership yields the most results. By tapping into your team’s diverse perspectives and skills, you benefit in the form of efficiency and innovative problem-solving. That’s one reason why diverse teams outperform those with people that are the same.

But all this hinges on you, as a collaborative leader, opening up communication lines. This can be by using anything from your organisation’s social media groups to bespoke in-house platforms. If you’re running a remote team (by default or due to COVID-19), you can take advantage of meeting management software. Here are some options to choose from

Besides opening up communication lines, a collaborative leader must practise and teach communication best practices. A few examples include:

  • Learning to listen. Listening is an art. It means focusing on what your team members are saying. Pay 100% attention.
  • Reading body language. Body language communicates more than speech alone can. Make sure to read body language when communicating with your team.  
  • Practising empathy. This is putting yourself in the listener’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view.

It’s essential that you, as a leader, practice good communication skills and teach your team the same. Successful collaboration, and the overall success of your organisation, depend on it.

  • Develop partnerships with your team

One of the biggest problems with the traditional siloed leadership style is that it builds barriers between leadership and their teams. In many cases, management is viewed as an elite group that doesn’t rub shoulders with frontline workers unless necessary.

This is one of the major drawbacks of traditional leadership styles that collaborative leadership combats.

To successfully implement collaborative leadership, you must develop partnerships with your team members. To do this:

  • Get to know each of your team members individually
  • Be empathetic
  • Leverage team-building exercises
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of your team
  • Allow your team members to be involved in brainstorming sessions
  • Take less of a directive role and more of a participatory role

Once your team sees that you’re more about partnering and collaborating with them than bossing them around, you end up with a united team. They’ll all unite around you and the goals you want to achieve. This gives you a competitive advantage over other organisations in your field.

  • Use the right collaboration tools.

The keyword in collaborative leadership is “collaboration”. 

That’s why, for this leadership style to be effective, you must use the right collaboration tools. Your choice of collaboration tools largely depends on the nature of your business. However, the best tools can help you collaborate effortlessly and in real-time. For example, RingCentral offers project and task management for teams and has a super easy-to-use file-sharing system. Collaboration has never been easier.

Today, modern technology makes it easier to communicate with team members. This includes those that work on-site and those who work from home. By using the right tools (like Slack, Asana, PandaDoc, etc.), you create a virtual environment where your employees are comfortable interacting with each other.

So, don’t skimp on investing in the right collaboration and communication tools. It will help keep your team unified, engaged and productive.

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Collaborative leadership – signs that you’re on the right track

Implementing collaborative leadership is a process. 

But how do you know if you’re doing the right thing?

Here are a few signs that you’re on the right track as you implement collaborative leadership:

     1. An open and inclusive culture

One of the signs that your collaborative leadership style is kicking in is a change in company culture. The most prominent cultural changes you’ll see are:

  • Openness. When collaboration is encouraged, your team members become open and start sharing information and ideas.
  • Inclusive culture. Because everyone is given a voice, your organisation will develop an inclusive culture. Inclusivity is important as research shows that companies that have an inclusive culture outperform their peers. That’s mainly due to tapping into the collective intelligence of the team.

If these elements can be seen in your organisation, you’re on the right track. Your shift to collaborative leadership is on the path to success. 

     2. An empowered workforce

Collaborative leadership is about empowering your team. A collaborative leader gives their team members enough rope to self-manage and makes decisions quickly. This is unlike traditional leadership methods embroiled in bureaucracy. 

As a team leader, you should empower your team members. Give them room to unleash their true potential. When you do that, your workload is reduced, and you develop a high-performing team. At the same time:

  • The hands-on experience helps develop your employees.
  • Your organisation benefits from different skills, perspectives and competencies of individual employees.
  • You can scale your operations since projects can be completed with less back and forth between your team and yourself.

When your employees darken the doors to your office less and less, it’s a sign that you’re succeeding in implementing your collaborative leadership style.  

     3. Collaboration Instead of Commanding

In a traditional setup, the leader barking orders to the team keep the organisation running.

That’s not the case with collaborative leadership.

A sign that you’re doing it well is when you instruct less and collaborate more with your team. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you must leave your administrative tasks to be in the trenches with your team. However, you must be involved in ensuring silos are broken, information is shared, and communication is effective. 

As a collaborative leader, you must be vulnerable enough to come down from your pedestal and work with the team you manage. Yes, even including them in the decision-making process. Be deliberate in creating a collaborative environment in which group members feel valued and appreciated. Remember, collaborative leadership is all about teamwork.

     4. Be prepared for productive conflict.

Implementing collaborative leadership isn’t a walk in the park.

That’s because when you give your employees a voice and interact with them regularly, you open the door to conflict.

When this happens, don’t get frustrated. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a healthy part of the process.

When conflict arises, it’s a sign that your team members are passionate enough about the project to voice their concerns. However, to ensure that the conflict doesn’t turn into a bitter rivalry set some ground rules for handling conflict. Examples of such regulations include (but are not limited to):

  • Finding common ground. Remind your team members that they’re all working towards a common goal. They may have different perspectives, but they should use those to help advance the team.
  • Always being respectful. Disagreement doesn’t mean people should disrespect each other. Despite their differences, they should address each other with respect. This means no raising of voices or negative attitudes.

It’s inevitable. Collaborative leadership will result in some conflict. But that conflict is simply a sign that your team is figuring out how to work together. The key is to ensure that all conflict is handled professionally.

Collaborative leadership is key to unified and productive organisations

Outdated traditional leadership styles just don’t cut it anymore. If anything, they’re doing your organisation more harm than good.

It’s time to embrace collaborative leadership. It’s essential to a unified and more productive organisation. Sure, you may experience a few challenges as you make the shift, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. The innovation that you’ll enjoy from the diversity of voices offering ideas will be invaluable. 

Neal Taparia

Author

    Neal Taparia is the co-founder of Imagine Easy Solutions, a portfolio of online educational services that reached over 30 million students yearly. Neal sold the business to Chegg (NYSE: CHGG), where he stayed there as an executive for three years. He’s now pursuing a new initiative, Solitaired, which ties classical games with memory and attention training.

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