We live in a world of immediate and widespread communication; any leader can speak directly to every single employee with just the push of a few buttons across a wide array of communication channels. The problem is, in many enterprises, this communication privilege only works one way. Top-down structures are still very common and create a lack of visibility over leadership activities and priorities, cutting them off and isolating them from the rest of the workforce.
The solution? Collaborative leadership, structures, and workplace cultures.
While many leaders may think of themselves as collaborative, actively listening to their senior leadership teams, specialists, and third-party support (i.e., professional services), they are missing out on an incredible diversity of thought and opinions in reality. This has been well documented as 81% of executives believe their company’s leadership is transparent about company developments, plans, and priorities, whereas only 58% of employees agree. Clearly, the top-down approach does not achieve the right level of visibility as intended and is having a negative impact on the workforce. According to Amex Business, a third of millennial employees expect the role of the CEO to be irrelevant by 2030 and for different leadership structures to dominate.
What Is a Truly Collaborative Workplace?
In collaborative work environments, information is circulated naturally, and all staff members are responsible for the entire enterprise. Everyone has equity in decision-making and execution, unlike in traditional top-down models where a small group of executives maintains control over the dissemination of information, decision-making, and company priorities.
According to Harvard Business Review, collaborative leaders regularly seek out a diversity of opinions and ideas among teammates to build strategies and solve problems. As a result, employees are more engaged, feel trusted, and are more likely to take ownership of their work. When you empower your entire workforce, you give them the opportunity to invest in the company’s future in a way we don’t often see.
What Are the Benefits of a Collaborative Approach to Leadership?
Taking a collaborative approach to leadership structures and engagement has many benefits, including:
1. Encouraging your workforce to commit to the organization’s common goals will see them achieve better results. In fact, a 2014 Stanford study found that collaborative efforts led to people sticking to a task 64% longer than those working alone.
2. It creates an open and honest environment for the exchange of ideas and views, leading to better teamwork and organizational harmony.
3. Diverse groups working together will create more comprehensive solutions geared toward your clients and customers.
4. A study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity at Babson College identified that collaboration leads to higher performance.
5. Collaboration and empowerment also allow you to identify those high performers and future potential leaders.
When everyone works together to improve the enterprise, business transformation or organizational change is much easier to implement generally. Staff is more committed to their roles and the future of the company, leading to lower turnover as people are more likely to stay in a role that nurtures their contributions, hard work, and creativity. People feel like everyone is pulling their weight and that leaders are “in the trenches” with them, creating a better sense of community effort.
While the benefits of collaborative leadership are clear, it can be challenging to turn around a company’s culture, people’s working habits, and leadership structures overnight. Moving to a more collaborative approach should be a long-term endeavor that you optimize over time.
5 Tips to Reset Your Company Culture and Leadership Style
No two organizations are the same, and resetting your organization for collaborative leadership will need a unique approach that accounts for the specific characteristics of your company culture, business goals, and leadership teams. However, applying some or all of the tips below will help you come from a more collaborative stance:
1. Create Trust Amongst All Team Structures
As a leader, you need to put yourself out there as a trusting and trustworthy presence, leading by example. This means exemplifying the principles of collaboration and communicating why you think it’s important that everyone collaborate to encourage buy-in from all levels of your organization.
2. Communicate Your Company’s Purpose
When you’re moving away from “command and control”, top-down power structures, you need to unite everyone in a shared purpose so that everyone is building towards the same thing. This also comes down to clear and powerful communication programs that encourage and excite your entire workforce.
3. Invest in Your Diversity
Collaboration thrives on diversity of thought, approach, backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions. Bring together diverse teams to create meaningful solutions, products, and processes. This means more than hiring culturally or ethnically diverse employees, it means investing in everyone’s equity and inclusion, empowering all members, and creating a culture of open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and respect.
4. Encourage and Reward Initiative
When you give everyone the ability to contribute to the decision-making and progress of the company, you create a perfect breeding ground for creativity, problem-solving, and ideation. Encouraging and rewarding when your employees show initiative will ensure you see the most benefits from collaboration. However, you need to communicate where people can take initiative and experiment with processes. It won’t be appropriate across the board in every function of your organization, but some areas will lend themselves naturally to improvement, encourage your employees to drive their own efficiency, and also outline expectations for quality control and structure.
5. Make Decision Making Transparent
Collaborative leadership involves the sharing of information and responsibility between leaders and their employees so that everyone can contribute to the decision-making process. Collaborative decision-making leads to better commitment to implement the solutions found, resulting in less time wasted in conflict management, and more energy is focused on understanding and addressing the challenges that affect the business.
Transparency in decision-making helps to build a sense of ownership for all, creating a commitment to the solutions and increasing acceptance of responsibility for their effectiveness. To foster collaboration, leaders should strive to be transparent, communicate compassionately, and build networks that break down traditional hierarchies. Through these strategies, leaders can help to create a shared sense of ownership and drive the entire company towards a common goal.
Collaborative leadership takes time and takes investment and commitment from your entire senior leadership team. How you communicate the benefits to them, and to your entire company will be the key to its success. Take the time to think about authentic communications with your company, ensure that it’s regular and that you provide that all-important visibility too.
Your teams need to see that collaboration is a priority to you, they need to see you commit to it, hear you extolling its value, and know that you will collaborate with them daily for the betterment of the company, of their careers, and of their day-to-day roles. When you show that you are as committed to collaboration as they are. When you show that you are as committed to collaboration as they are, relationships between teams and leadership will improve and your organization will benefit from it in the short-, medium- and long term.