Collaborative Leadership

Dec. 1, 2010
Competitive pressures keep forcing companies to find ways to do more with less.
Few managers have the luxury of relying only on local staff to accomplish objectives. Instead, they must work with and through people across many different locations and organizations, with different priorities, incentives and ways of doing things. Leadership was traditionally based on positional authority. Today, that style of leadership has become passé and ineffective.The fast-moving, eclectic, global business environment demands collaborative leadership. The manager relinquishes positional authority and becomes part of the work group to provide direction, communication, group process facilitation, coordination and support. This will achieve better results, faster and more consistently than conventional boss-subordinate orientation.The personal strengths and weaknesses, preferences and motivations of all team members must be balanced. A balanced team outperforms all reasonable expectations of its individual members. Teams have a synergistic effect—one plus one equals a lot more than two.Team members cooperate in all aspects of their tasks and goals, and share in what are traditionally thought of as management functions, such as planning, organizing, setting performance goals, assessing the team's performance, securing resources and developing strategies to manage change. Learning to use new capabilities in a team environment enhances the team's ability to select the most effective management style for specific situations.The team has the responsibility and authority for reaching consensus decisions that everyone can support. The importance of empowering each team member must be recognized. The leader is the team's facilitator to coordinate the work, but not to make any independent decisions related to delegated responsibilities. As the team recognizes the benefits of the process and experiences success, they naturally develop more areas of collective responsibility and decision-making, which generates further success.Effective communications must be enabled across distance, time zones and company borders, encouraging team members to discuss, analyze and review information collaboratively; and this must be on a regular basis. Team members should be available from anywhere, at any time, through the multiple means of communications available today. The team grows smarter and adds more value every day as its members' shared knowledge is refined and reused.When groups of people come together to form a team, they typically go through four stages: Form, Storm, Norm, Perform. This model of group development, first discussed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, suggests that these four phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to be effective.Some people approach the challenge of improving collaborative teamwork entirely the wrong way. They focus on conflicts—the symptoms rather than the root causes of failures. The fact is that you can't improve collaboration until you've addressed the issues that cause conflict. Many mistakenly assume that efforts to increase collaboration will reduce conflict, when in fact, some of these actions—for example, restructuring initiatives—actually produce more of it.Embrace conflictMany team managers underestimate not only the inevitability of conflict but also its importance to the organization. The disagreements sparked by differences in perspective, competencies, access to information and strategic focus actually generate much of the value that can come from collaboration across organizational boundaries. Instead of trying simply to reduce disagreements, team leaders need to embrace conflict and skillfully employ mechanisms for managing it.More than anything, focus and passion are the ingredients of success. The primary job of the manager is to help the team to remain focused on key objectives, and to infuse every member with the passion to achieve superlative results. For the team, it's not just work—it's the mission!Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site:

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