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Collaborative Leadership: Worth the Extra Work

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As leaders, we are wired to be efficient, to not spin our wheels, and to not waste resources. Working with others can sometimes get complicated and frustrating – far from efficient. Consensus, adoption and team participation may sound like a leader’s worst nightmare, but here are our thoughts on how leading your team collaboratively is actually the way to achieve efficiency.

What do you picture when you hear the words “collaborative leadership”?

  • Is it a leader who figures everything out and then gets input from the team?
  • Is it a painful process of trying to get everyone in a room to agree to something?
  • Is it a bureaucratic process that takes too long?

If so, then you’ve haven’t seen true collaborative leadership in the works!

Yes, collaborative leadership may take some extra time upfront, but the understanding, clarity, and commitment you gain from it continue to pay off as the team moves from project to project.

The Rewards of Collaborative Leadership

The rewards of collaborative leadership are plenty. Collaborative teams are quick on the uptake,  honest and proactive when faced with challenges, and ultimately focused on solutions. Collaborative teams are in agreement about tools, standards, and practices. They trust one another and don’t waste time on petty arguments.

Collaborative leaders respect their team members and are not afraid to share accountability with them. Collaborative leaders are not alone, or lonely, in their daily work. As they make decisions, they have a lot more expertise to draw upon than just their own.  They also rely on others to work out the details and thus, have more time and energy to lead.

So how does one get from the pain of building trust and getting people to collaborate to the ease of having it all in place? Start with incorporating the following three key components of collaborative leadership in your daily practice. 

1. Co-Creation

By co-creating with your teams, you build commitment from the start.  This method allows you to build ownership of the work among team members and address resistance along the way. You also gain clarity and understanding among the group about what they are committing to do. Many leaders struggle with their teams adopting what they have created. When teams co-create, adoption within a team develops organically, and the team then works cohesively to achieve adoption of their practices within the entire organization.

2. Full-Team Participation

If you’re a leader, you have a team. Teams produce outcomes and so the team should be included in the planning process. Don’t do it alone, or else you risk lack of ownership. Use tools and techniques that engage every single team member.

3. Consensus

Consensus means 100% of the team can “live with”  the current course of action.  Not everyone needs to agree: they can be skeptical and hold on to their opinion but if they can live with what the team is doing and also fully understand the rationale behind the team’s actions – there is consensus. A leader should not move forward without consensus as it is key to building trust within the team and an important component of true collaboration.

We have more collaborative tools for your toolbox!  This article is part of a series on successful leadership in a matrix organization. We talk more about collaborative methods in our Matrix Management Reinvented: Book 2 – The 7 Shifts Needed to Be a Successful Matrix Leader and in our Matrix Management 2.0™ Quick Guide.

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.