None of Us are Smarter than All of Us - Collaborative Leadership from A to Z
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has become an essential ingredient for organizational success (perhaps
even survival). As organizations move toward more collaborative
cultures, a new leadership model is emerging – one that replaces
command and control with trust and inclusion. The leader’s role is to
encourage team members to see themselves as valued contributors, to
help them build their knowledge base, expand their personal networks,
and to motivate them to offer their ideas and perspectives in service
of a common goal.
are my leadership tips, from A to Z, for creating an environment in
which people choose to participate and contribute:
appreciation. Collaboration is a
discretionary effort. You can’t order people to contribute and care.
But when they do, you can thank them for their time, their attention,
their ideas, their creativity, and their willingness to compromise in
order to reach a collective goal.
your body language. All leaders express enthusiasm,
warmth, and confidence -- as well as arrogance, indifference, and
displeasure through their expressions, gestures, touch, and use of
space. If leaders want to be perceived as credible and collaborative,
they need to make sure that their verbal messages are supported (not
sabotaged) by their nonverbal signals.
your customer. For both for-profit corporationNone
of Us are Smarter than All of Us - Collaborative Leadership from A to
nonprofit agencies, few things are more important to an organization
than staying close to the end user of the service or product it offers,
and customers are often brought into the collaborative process through
focus groups, feedback channels, and dialogue. The same is true for
internal customers. When you involve them in your collaborative
process, they have an even bigger investment in your team's success.
diversity. Diversity is crucial to harnessing the
full power of collaboration. Experiments at the
University of Michigan found that, when challenged with a difficult
problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse
than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge.
The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of
diverse thinking. Group members who think alike or are trained in
similar disciplines with similar knowledge bases run the risk of
becoming insular in their ideas. Instead of exploring alternatives, a
confirmation bias takes over and members tend to reinforce one
predisposition. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and
possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.
Eliminate the barriers to a free flow of
ideas. Everyone has knowledge that is important to someone else, and
you never know whose input is going to become an essential part of the
solution. When insights and opinions are ridiculed, criticized or
ignored, people feel threatened and "punished" for contributing. They
typically react by withdrawing from the conversation. Conversely, when
people are free to ask "dumb" questions, challenge the status quo, and
offer novel--even bizarre--suggestions, then collaboration becomes a
creative process of blending diverse opinion, expertise and
from failure. Leading innovators like Apple see
their failures as being as insightful as their successes. The goal is
not to eliminate all errors, but to quickly detect, analyze, and
correct mistakes before they become fatal.
globally. Collaboration increasingly involves teams
that are both virtual and international. Participants are scattered
across countries, time zones, and cultures. Leading a global team
requires increased sensitivity to and understanding of your own
cultural biases and preferences as well as those of your dispersed team
hoarding by challenging the “knowledge is power”
attitude. Knowledge is no longer a commodity like gold, which holds (or
increases) it’s worth over time. It’s more like milk – fluid, evolving,
and stamped with an expiration date. And, by the way, there is nothing less
powerful than hanging on to knowledge whose time has expired.
the appropriate information channels for different
messages. Face-to-face is the richest communication channel because
voice, body language, proximity, eye contact, and touch are all present
to give deeper meaning to our messages, and to allow us to gauge the
instantaneous responses of others. (In face-to-face meetings, our
brains process the continual cascade of nonverbal cues that we use as
the basis for trust and professional intimacy.) Many information tools
including text, instant messenger, and email are “lean,” meaning they
lack the inter-personal cues that humans have been using for thousands
of years to understand one another. Information channels become richer
as you add human elements. Telephone calls and teleconferences give
listeners access to vocal prosody. Videoconferencing adds a visual
element that allows participants to interpret facial expressions and
hand gestures. The more complicated, emotional, or nuanced your message
is, the richer your channel should be.
Join the team. The most collaborative
and inspirational leaders I’ve seen are “in the boat” with those they
lead. They don’t stay above the job or the project or the exercise or
the problem. Instead, they became part of a focused group of
professionals who work together to find innovative solutions to shared
challenges. As one leader put it, "It's pretty simple, really. Treat
all employees as if they were your partners. Because that’s what they
all are."<!--[if !vml]-->
knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge that are
key to the collaborative process. Explicit knowledge can be transferred
in a document or presentation. Tacit knowledge (our instincts, hunches,
experiences) is brought out in a conversation, a story, or a
relationship. Make sure you are developing strategies to capture both.
on the power of mini-culture leadership. Regardless
of an overall organizational culture, individual managers, supervisors,
and team leaders can nurture high levels of collaboration within their
own work group or staff.
Mix it up by rotating personnel in
various jobs and departments around the organization, by creating
cross-functional teams, and by inviting managers from other areas of
the organization to attend (or lead) your team meetings. The simple act
of bringing together people from different departments, is the first
step in breaking down barriers between internal silos.
and nurture networks – your own and your team’s.
In research studies as diverse as the Norwegian School of Economics and
MIT, the same conclusion was reached: High performers (and high
performing teams) build, maintain, and leverage diverse networks that
span organizational boundaries and extend beyond the organization.
open communication. The way information is handled
determines whether it becomes an obstacle to or an enabler of
collaboration: Leaders who withhold or omit pertinent information lower
team morale. Leaders who are candid and transparent earn the trust of
their team members.
participation. Make people feel safe and valued, emphasize
their strengths while encouraging the sharing of mistakes and lessons
learned, set clear expectations for outcomes and clarify individual
roles, encourage and respect everyone's contribution. Most of all,
realize that you are more successful at harnessing the energies and
talents of others when you lead through influence and inclusion rather
than by position and power.
the right questions. At the beginning of a project,
ask: What information do we need? Whose expertise can we tap? How do we
plan to share what we learn? At the end of a project, ask: Where did we
hit (or miss) our goals? How much of our success was due to strategy
and how much to luck or circumstance? What to we need to start, stop,
or continue doing to capitalize on what we’ve learned?
relationships. The success of any team – as measured
by its creativity, productivity, and effectiveness – hinges on the
strength of the ties between its members. Collaboration is enhanced
when people get to know one another as individuals. So when designing
offsite retreats or other team events, be sure to build in
opportunities for socializing in order to give people the opportunity
to get to know one another. Taking time to build personal relationships
between team members at the beginning of a project will dramatically
increase the effectiveness of that team later on.
stories. Collaboration is communicated best through
stories – of successes, failures, opportunities, values, and
experiences. Upbeat or humorous stories set the stage for collaborative
interaction, personal stories bond team members and build “social
capital,” stories of failure teach valuable lessons, and stories of
“small wins” encourage progress.
trust. Trust is the foundation for collaboration.
Without trust, a team loses its emotional “glue.” In a culture of
suspicion people withhold information, hide behind psychological walls,
and withdraw from participation. If you want to create a networked,
collaborative group of individuals, the first and most crucial step is
to establish an atmosphere of trust.
on unifying goals. Business
unit leaders must
understand the overarching goals of the total organization and the
importance of working in concert with other areas to achieve those
crucial strategic objectives. Leaders help their teams understand the
importance of the work they are doing by explaining how it supports
those organizational goals.
your values. One executive talked about his first
job, working in a London bank, where he was treated as an inferior
because he had a different accent and came from a lower social class
than his co-workers. The executive went on to say that he never wanted
anyone who worked for him to feel like that.
collaborative asset. To facilitate collaboration, create environments
that stimulate informal conversations from chance encounters.
Attractive break-out areas, communal coffee bars, comfortable cafeteria
chairs, even wide landings on staircases – all of these increase the
likelihood that employees will "bump into one another" and linger to
a tip from Xerox and encourage “water cooler”
conversations. Xerox discovered that real learning doesn’t take place
in the classroom - or in any formal setting. In fact, people were found
to learn more from comparing experiences in the hallways than from
reading the company’s official manuals, going online to a data base, or
attending training sessions. As one wise CEO told me at a business
conference, “All of the important conversations are taking place around
the wine and cheese bar.”
that collaboration is crucial for your leadership
success. We’re witnessing the death of “Superman” or “Wonder Woman”
leadership model, where one person comes in with all the answers to
save the day. We now know that no leader, regardless of how brilliant
and talented, is smarter than the collective genius of the workforce.
about reaching the zenith. Collaborative cultures
are learning cultures – and collaborative leadership will always be a
work in progress.
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. presents Master Classes on
“Collaborative Leadership” in the U.S. and Europe. Carol is a keynote
speaker, leadership presence coach, media expert on the impact of body
language on leadership effectiveness, a leadership contributor for
Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language
Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
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