Managing a team, or even a whole organization, is definitely not a walk in the park. Leaders face a lot of challenges that are related to new fields in company management. Managing distributed teams across a few time zones and locations and managing employer branding activities wasn’t much of a thing as recently as even 5 or 10 years ago. Yet, this is not a reversible trend, which is why leaders – along with whole teams within organizations - need to adapt and switch to a flat, transparent structure instead of a dictatorial top-down approach. Creating a workspace that is not only effective, but also welcoming and comfortable for employees, comes as another challenge in cross-functional organizations. These challenges require an open-minded approach, asking for a culture that is innovative, breaks with the rules and demands flat hierarchies.
The secret recipe to success is a transition to collaborative leadership: Welcome to the year 2019: where there are no single bosses anymore, but there are many leaders instead.
Say goodbye to C-levels. What is collaborative leadership?
In the past, collaboration usually took place in smaller teams and departments that reported to C-level bosses and team leaders. There was no such thing as an overall collaboration within a whole company. Collaborative leadership breaks former boundaries by introducing a flatter structure and empowering an organization with powerful leaders in order to provide flawless collaboration.
Collaborative leadership focuses on delivering all tools, solutions and communication methods to effectively work together. This is the opposite approach to top-down management, common in the past, where all processes were decided and controlled by a C-level board and employees couldn't have their say. Collaborative leaders won't let this happen, allowing each and every one to not only have their opinion, but also to share it out loud to be heard and listened to. Basically, every employee has an impact on how the organization works, as everyone in the organization should share the same business goal. This kind of leadership helps build appreciation, trust, relations and effective collaboration, whilst a diversity of ideas and insights boosts creativity and productivity. Managers enhance their bond with employees, who pay back their leaders with thoughts, opinions and higher motivation not only to work, but to collaborate as well.
The approach sounds promising. However, change can take some time.
How should a collaborative leadership environment look like?
Be sure everyone shares the same goal. There is no way to build a collaborative leadership-friendly workplace if members of an organization do not share the same vision. The goal should be to connect people, not to pull them apart.
Make value visible in every corner of the organization. A collaborative environment provides a decisive advantage: Employees are taken seriously and therefore they feel free to contribute their own ideas. For the company, the contributions of individual employees can bring real added value. However, this requires that collaborative leaders maintain the horizontal structures and encourage employees to get involved. In concrete terms, no employee should be afraid of rejection.
Keep no secrets. Openly shared information can help avoid many misunderstandings and quarrels. Leaders should encourage teams to take care of the information flow. In the past, some essential pieces of information were kept only to boards and managers. Nowadays, in a collaborative ecosystem, transparency of information as well as mutual trust and respect, are important to keep the company healthy.
Give & receive constructive feedback. Constructive criticism - whether positive or negative - is valuable. Not only does it increase motivation, it also helps to constantly improve the team. The way in which feedback is given is crucial, especially when it comes to attaching negative criticism. It should not be seen as a means of managing one's own stress or a way to feel better about oneself. In a collaborative environment, it is also important for leaders to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and to allow different perspectives. They too can benefit from the advice of their employees, who often have more expertise in their respective fields.
Work on motivation and trust. Releasing control every now and then is often particularly difficult for managers. However, to create a collaborative environment, this is necessary. As long as the work is kept transparent, employees should also have the opportunity to develop freely and take responsibility themselves.
TIP: Introduce a "thank you" approach instead of a "sorry" approach. Instead of apologizing for a request, it makes more sense to say „thank you” for the help you received. Why? With the latter, we emphasize only the problem arising in the work process. With the former, we focus on the solution and this contributes to a positive atmosphere. Gratitude is important and promotes happiness as well as harmony between both parties. Better than a "I'm sorry that I disturbed you" is therefore a "Thank you for your help".
Collaborative leadership for more productivity
Teams in collaborative leadership environments also contribute to overall success because of their exceptional productivity. How can a collaborative leadership be supported and optimized?
Use the right tools
People and entire teams often work together across multiple locations. The term remote work is becoming increasingly important. How can this be reconciled with a collaborative leadership in which transparency and fast communication channels play such a large role? Collaboration tools serve the purpose of bringing together several people and groups of people. Project management and collaboration are made simpler, faster and more open. Through a transparent and easy-to-follow exchange in the team (task management, team chat, etc.), all necessary information is always available for all members. The collaboration tool should be user-friendly and tailored to the way the team works.
Especially during the transformation, which does not take place overnight, all sides need to show understanding, patience and empathy. It is crucial to communicate new ideas and modifications well and to adapt the leadership style to the corporate structures. Being implemented in a wrong way, a collaborative leadership can become time-consuming and create frustrations. This happens for example due to a great number of unnecessary meetings and the use of wrong tools (many emails that create chaos). Employees and executives who feel that the new approaches will bring more responsibilities may not be willing to join in. Team leaders should therefore think in advance about an effective workflow and appropriate approaches. Here, too, collaboration tools provide a remedy: co-working on documents, real-time communication and the central provision of information in a closed system will save time and money.
Abolishing the top-down approach within a classic leadership style might not be easy for everyone. Though, your business can benefit from moving to flat hierarchies. Collaborative leadership can increase both efficiency and employee satisfaction. It has a positive effect on the relationships in the organization and accelerates the achievement of business goals. Mutual inspiration, collaboration and creativity without constant pressure and command as shown in top-down leaderships often bring more benefits to an organization than hiring another C-level manager. Changes are required for a dynamic work landscape. The sooner they are implemented, the more likely the effects will be.
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