Collaborative leadership is gaining traction in industries across the globe, yet many companies are unsure of how to embrace it. From a strategic and conceptual standpoint, collaborative leadership is less about inclusion and politeness, and more about a constructive and concerted effort to maximize the strengths of disparate and heterogeneous human resource assets.
Implementing an effective approach to collaborative leadership requires careful forethought and planning, which has to originate from the uppermost levels of the organization. A recent case study, carried out at Dubai’s international airport, revealed several important factors that drive collaborative leadership success. Some are surprising, others are intuitive, and all of them are valuable and instructive. Here is a summary of the major findings:
Positions Don’t Matter; Interests Do
Traditional approaches to multifaceted leadership focused solely on managers and executives from different departments, who were more or less equal in rank. This may not be the best way to go. In fact, the Dubai case study found that common interests among team members was a much more accurate predictor of success than the positions or seniority of participants.
The same principles that drive successful conflict resolutions and negotiations can be applied to collaborative leadership. In other words, the key is to identify what really matters to the participants and find out what they consider important and worth working towards. Once those factors have been identified, getting everyone on board becomes a much easier task.
Sharing Influence with Others
Executives and leaders are taught throughout their careers to be agents of influence. They’re the ones who seize the reins and inspire others to act. However, in a collaborative leadership setting, it’s just as important to be influenced by others as it is to exert influence over others.
There are three fundamental drivers of a good balance between being a target of influence and being an agent of it. First, team members need to maintain an open mind when it comes to incorporating, accepting and implementing the ideas of others. Second, everyone needs to maintain an inquisitive and understanding attitude; it’s essential to take the time to understand where other people are coming from before pushing ahead with your own agenda. Finally, everyone needs to recognize and respect the contributions of other team members, not just their own.
Defining Roles and Responsibilities
According to recent research on the topic, collaborative efforts are more successful when team members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for which they are accountable. This drives the individual members to take greater levels of ownership and pride in their own work, while maintaining a big-picture view of how their efforts — and the efforts of others with different roles — came together to achieve something bigger.
While it is important to assign specific roles and responsibilities to individual team members, it is equally vital to set aside time for collaborative work. Collaboration can’t be something individual members force into their schedules; it has to be the foundation and the lifeblood of the entire effort.
To facilitate this, leaders must strive to communicate why specific collaborative sessions and efforts are important, and how they relate to the overall goal. In other words, it isn’t effective to force collaboration for its own sake; there has to be a plan, an objective, and a purpose for each collaborative effort.
Sharing Successes and Setbacks Alike
When collaborative leadership succeeds, it’s usually pretty easy for individual team members to be generous with sharing the credit. However, setbacks are inevitable, and when they do occur, blame needs to be shared as equally as success. Accusations and finger-pointing aren’t constructive, and they destroy the community spirit that is essential to the success of any group leadership effort.
Sharing blame is the easiest and most effective way to defuse tension in the face of a failure or setback. Team members need to be trained to acknowledge their contribution to a problem, however minor it may be. Nothing will create a divide among leadership collaborators faster than a sense of division among team members, and eliminating these types of divides often requires a wholesale culture change in the organizational framework of a company.