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Collaborative Work Style: How To Bring Leaders On Board

Collaborative Work Style

Change starts and stops with the organization’s leaders. Every restructuring or change initiative brings about graphs and plans showing effective collaboration, optimized resources, and great teams.

Yet, more often than not, these ideas stay on paper. Senior leaders who often initiate and direct change initiatives are the very people who have the hardest time adopting new behaviors and practices. Why so?

Traditional leaders are used to their “command-and-control” leadership styles that they’ve gotten comfortable with (and worked towards) their entire careers. In order for leaders to change their ways, they need to understand what true collaboration is, have a way to learn new skills effectively, and set standards for others in the organization to follow.


Understand True Collaboration

Observe a typical meeting within your organization. Is a leader co-creating with others, actively engaging them in the planning or decision-making process, or simply collecting inputs so she can create a plan or make a decision on her own?

There’s a major difference between the two.

True collaboration encompasses three characteristics: co-creation, full-team participation and working towards consensus. A collaborative leader is able to use the collective intelligence of the entire team in order to get to the outcome, rather than relying primarily on her own intelligence and bits of information from others.

Collaborative work style calls for consistent processes that a leader uses to engage stakeholders from across the organization in co-creating the output. This style also requires the ability to foster and maintain strong partnership relationships, based on trust, respect, and professional competence, as opposed to authority.

A New Approach to Restructuring white paper

Find Talent Development Programs to Help Leaders Develop Collaborative Skills

If your leaders have spent their entire careers in an authority-based environment, they may never have truly collaborated in the first place. In order to understand how true collaboration is different along with the benefits of this work environment, leaders need to experience true collaboration first-hand.

That’s why it’s so important for organizational development professionals or training directors to identify hands-on, experiential programs that will go beyond merely telling leaders how they need to work in this new environment and instead, show them what it’s like and give them the tools to do it.

Choose training programs that incorporate games and simulations to help participants compare and contrast traditional directive leadership that’s based on authority and collaborative leadership that’s based on strong relationships. Choose programs that offer collaborative processes and develop skills to facilitate collaboratively.

Establish Standard Collaborative Methods

Once you have a shared understanding of collaboration and your leaders are able to work collaboratively, you need to scale up and make sure that the organization as a whole applies collaborative methods consistently.

Consistency is important because modern organizations work increasingly in cross-functional teams, rather than in silos. The same person may serve on several teams at once, and standards make switching from team to team easy and seamless.

There are many excellent methodologies and tools on the market, and it’s easy to get lost in the choices, so each organization needs to approach this strategically. OD and training development leaders are in a good position to be accountable for standardizing collaborative methods to be used across the organization.

Just as you may use the same quality standards or development standards throughout the organization, you also need to create standards for collaboration that works most effectively for your industry, your people, and the type of work that they do.

Standards help implement organizational changes in cases when the organization is transitioning from a top-down management system to a modern, matrix system. When standard methods and tools are in place and leaders are modeling desired practices, it’s easier for others in the organization to follow their suit and learn on the job.

As collaborative methods become part of the organizational culture, people become more engaged, get more work done, and get it done faster.

Learn More

Leaders need to shift the way they lead to help their organizations adjust to the rapidly changing business environment. Read our book,  “Matrix Management Reinvented Book 2: Seven Shifts Needed to Be a Successful Matrix Leader” to learn what makes a successful leader and how OD professionals can help.

Explore our training programs for leaders.

Mistina Picciano

As Managing Editor of OD Innovator, Mistina Picciano combines her passions for communication and peak performance. She researches and writes about leading practices to help individuals and organizations realize their greatest potential.