Real Leaders

5 Principles for Collaborative Leadership

A seminar holding a seminar together between some of the team leader while working in a modern office space.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a bright spotlight on our leaders. With companies switching over to remote working in unprecedented numbers, a new form of leadership is needed.

Although the uncertainty of the time puts pressure on both employees and management, leaders must rise to the occasion and provide the required stability. The secret to effective collaborative leadership lies in collaboration itself. With these 5 principles below as a compass, any decent leader can become a great leader.

1. Converge the Goals

Whether we are managing a project, performing a task, or leading a meeting, ensuring the team has a single, unifying aim is a top priority. This gives direction to the whole team and prevents miscommunication and pointless work. In many group settings, managers start this process in a ‘loose’, relaxed way, but upon realizing they aren’t sure things are going in the right direction, they often end up micromanaging. By keeping the process tight from the outset, tasks are properly delegated using this single, unifying aim. Experts can do their thing, and people can be held accountable for their part in the success of the project. This aim is fundamental, particularly in a remote work context.

2. Organize the Dance

Collaboration is a dance between individual creativity and autonomy. This comes with a high degree of trust between the individual and management. As with any dance, no team member can perform at high intensity 24 hours a day. To really be in tune with the music, with dedication and grace, time off is needed. No one can be expected to answer emails immediately day-in-day-out. No one is productive every moment of the day. When team members have the space and the trust from their management to withdraw into silence when they need it, they can come back into the collaborative dance with better results, more reflections, and an active engagement in the creative process. Here, the role of the leader is to ensure the work is done by those who have the ability and the opportunity to do so, in a setting that works for them.

3. Lead and Localize the Climate

A remote work environment presents unique challenges. Without specific care for this culture, a team performs as the mere sum of parts; anonymous participants of a Zoom-meeting with their cameras and microphones switched off. When the environment is safe, and vulnerability is encouraged, employees feel comfortable to truly allow their expertise to shine and contribute to the whole. Brough quotes Dr. Timothy Clark, who describes psychological safety as “an environment of rewarded vulnerability.” This requires courage from both the team and managers to uncover vulnerability and to call out difficult topics. Leaders who go into this formerly uncharted territory by creating psychological safety can bring people together in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of parts. This aspect might be the most elusive trait but is the most critical right now. Here lies the greatest area of growth for many leaders.

4. Assess the Process/Priorities

A remote context and an increasingly relevant ‘gig-economy call for more of an entrepreneurial approach and staying on top of the network. Who are we working with, how are we working with them, and what are the desired outcomes? Space and platform can greatly influence productivity and collaboration. In a world with seemingly infinite possibilities (various online meeting tools, digital whiteboards, or corporate social media networks), simply emailing back and forth means missing out on the opportunity to work as if the team were all in the same room. It is the responsibility of the leader to decide on the right platform, map the network and divide the responsibilities. When management provides a clear view, tools, and conditions, the team thrives.

5. Build in Bandwidth and Measures

Many teams work in a synchronous way, where the team works at the same time together. Everyone attends the same meetings. Brough suspects more companies will switch to an asynchronous approach where meetings are for collaboration and decision-making but not mandatory. He states that the current synchronous way of working is not sustainable; email traffic and the number of meetings have shot up exponentially; no one can attend all the meetings and answer all emails with thorough attention without the risk of burnout. An asynchronous approach can create more bandwidth and higher quality outcomes and outputs.

All these principles come together as a commitment the leader makes to the team. It results in a work environment where people have the clarity, the opportunity, the culture, the tools, and the bandwidth to perform successfully. What it takes is a leader who will commit to giving their team this opportunity for success. Brough summarizes this in a charter: “As a team member or leader, I make a personal commitment aligning my choices and behaviors to my team purpose, and embracing positive conflict and collaboration.”

Following these principles allows for the collaboration to be a dance between creativity, capability, and convergence; it enables leaders and their teams to navigate their way to corporate success like they’ve never seen before.

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