Collaboration is the key to success. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one”, and a team of people can reach better results than just one person.
As organisations face complex challenges and seek innovative solutions, the traditional top-down, command-and-control leadership model gives way to a more inclusive and empowering approach: collaborative leadership.
As the name suggests, collaborative leadership goes beyond the traditional model of one single person making decisions and issuing directives. It acknowledges that the collective intelligence and diverse perspective of a team can lead to more effective problem-solving, increased employee engagement, and better outcomes.
Since every decision affects employees, why not promote open communication, fostering a culture of trust and respect? Collaborative leaders tap into the full potential of their teams and create an environment conducive to cooperation.
This article discusses the characteristics of collaborative leadership, its benefits and the ways you can implement it in your business, harnessing the power of multiple perspectives and ideas.
What is collaborative leadership?
Collaborative leadership is a leadership approach that emphasises working together, building partnerships, and fostering cooperation among individuals and teams to achieve common goals. The idea is to engage others in decision-making processes, which promotes open communication and leverages the collective intelligence and skills of the group.
A leader in collaborative leadership is a facilitator. They encourage participation and input from team members, value other perspectives, and create an environment where everyone feels heard and respected.
The culture leaders create with this approach is extremely important. Employees must feel like they can share their opinions and suggestions, trusting that superiors will take their ideas into consideration.
Collaborative leaders understand that they don’t have all the answers and recognise the value of tapping into the expertise and experience of others. They actively seek input from team members, stakeholders, and other relevant parties to gather a range of perspectives and insights before making decisions.
This inclusive approach not only enhances the quality of decisions but also increases the commitment and ownership of group members.
Millennials are the true champions of collaborative leadership, and their view on work is transforming our culture. According to a Deloitte report, people born between 1980 and 1994 collaborate openly, using tools to exchange ideas and have more visibility of other people’s work.
As leaders, millennials seek purpose in their organisation and value others’ opinions as sources of innovation and change. They prefer a team approach rather than an individual attitude at the workplace. There is no question that collaborative leadership is the future.
Key characteristics of collaborative leadership
Collaborative leadership is an effective approach to working as a team. However, the will to work as a team is not the only characteristic of this management style.
Here are some of the characteristics of this approach:
Collaborative leaders aim to build strong relationships and networks with their team, clients, and business partners.
They foster a sense of community and encourage teamwork, cooperation, and mutual support.
They practice active listening skills, seeking to understand the perspective and concerns of others. They create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions.
Active listening involves paying attention, withholding judgement, demonstrating empathy, and ensuring people feel understood and appreciated.
Acting on suggestions and ideas demonstrates that leaders are committed to collaboration.
As discussed, collaborative leaders understand that they do not have all the answers and, therefore, actively involve others in the decision-making process.
Leaders with this approach delegate responsibilities, provide autonomy, and encourage team members to take ownership of their work. They recognise and appreciate the unique strengths and contributions of individuals.
Beyond listening and empowering individuals, collaborative leaders also work to manage conflicts and handle the differences of opinion that may arise within the team.
Working as part of a group can be challenging, but leaders committed to this approach facilitate constructive dialogue, encourage compromise, and work towards win-win solutions.
Shared vision and goals
Collaborative leaders ensure that everyone is aligned with a shared vision and common goals. They involve the team in the goal-setting process and make sure that individual objectives make sense as part of the overall business vision.
Leaders committed to a collaborative environment should promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
It is important to encourage experimentation, innovation, and the sharing of knowledge and best practices.
Styles of collaborative leadership
Leadership styles vary according to leaders. There are many different ways of approaching collaboration, and each individual might prioritise a specific aspect of teamwork.
Although people might have a preferred approach, leadership styles are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to combine different elements of each style to create a unique collaborative leadership approach. The choice of what to prioritise depends on the context, organisational culture and the needs of the team and individuals involved.
Effective collaborative leaders adapt their style to the situation and the needs of their team to maximise collaboration and achieve desired outcomes.
Here are some of the most common approaches in collaborative leadership:
1. Facilitative leadership
Facilitative leaders act as guides and facilitators, ensuring that the collaborative process runs smoothly. They create an environment where team members can freely express their ideas, opinions, and concerns.
The aim of a leader with this style is to guide and enable creative processes within a group. In this context, managers are neutral and intervene very little, only to ensure that the group’s interactions and discussions are productive, inclusive, and goal-oriented.
Rather than imposing their own ideas or solutions, facilitative leaders create an environment that allows employees to generate and explore their own insights.
2. Servant leadership
Servant leaders prioritise the needs and growth of their team members. They actively support and serve their team by providing resources, removing barriers, and facilitating success.
In contrast to traditional leadership styles – which prioritise authority and control – servant leadership focus on the needs and well-being of team members. Leaders empower the rest of the group, motivating them to reach their full potential.
Relationships are very important in a servant leadership approach, as these leaders value trust and mutual respect.
3. Participative leadership
Participative leaders involve team members in decision-making processes. They seek input, ideas, and feedback from the team before making decisions.
This approach is considered democratic, as it recognises the value of collective wisdom and aims to create an environment in which team members feel empowered, engaged, and motivated.
Leaders that follow this style usually ensure that team members have access to relevant information and resources necessary for decision-making. They promote transparency and prioritise the development of team members’ skills and capabilities.
4. Transformational leadership
Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their team members to exceed expectations and achieve extraordinary results. They communicate a compelling vision and set high-performance standards.
This approach goes beyond transactional exchanges and aims to transform individuals, teams, and organisations by creating a vision, promoting innovation, and fostering a sense of purpose and empowerment.
Leaders with this style provide mentorship, coaching, and support to help individuals reach their full potential.
5. Collaborative coaching
Collaborative coaching leaders combine elements of collaboration and coaching to foster growth and development among team members. This style focuses on creating a supportive work environment where an individual can contribute their ideas, talents, and skills.
Managers in this context facilitate the personal and professional growth of their employees through collaborative partnerships. They usually identify individual strengths, areas for improvement, and growth opportunities, providing guidance, support, and feedback to facilitate learning and development.
6. Network leadership
Network leaders recognise the importance of building relationships and networks within and outside the organisation. They actively connect individuals and teams, fostering collaboration and information sharing.
This approach understands that leadership is not limited to a single individual or position but can emerge from various sources within a networked structure. Leaders in this context are skilled ad mobilising resources across organisational boundaries to create positive change.
The benefits of collaborative leadership
It is clear that collaborative leadership aims for the well-being of the collective. Leaders that follow this approach are interested in achieving a common goal and making sure people feel comfortable sharing ideas, which in turn fosters innovation.
There are clear benefits to adopting a collaborative leadership approach in your business:
Enhanced creativity and innovation
By actively involving diverse perspectives and ideas, collaborative leadership fosters a creative and innovative culture.
When individuals feel encouraged to contribute their unique insights and experiences, they are more likely to propose creative solutions, leading to increased innovation within the organisations.
This style of leadership promotes shared decision-making processes. By gathering input from team members and stakeholders, leaders can access a wider range of information and perspectives, leading to more well-rounded decisions.
Not only that but with shared decisions, people collectively feel responsible for the outcomes, ensuring that they are engaged in relevant processes for the company. It increases acceptance and commitment to decisions since individuals feel heard and involved in the process.
Increased employee engagement and motivation
Collaborative leaders value the contributions of their team members and empower them to take ownership of their work. This sense of involvement and autonomy enhances employee engagement and motivation.
When individuals feel their opinions matter and their ideas are valued, they are more likely to be proactive, committed, and invested in their work.
Stronger relationships and teamwork
This approach of leadership focuses on building strong relationships and promoting teamwork. When individuals work together in a collaborative environment, it fosters trust, respect, and camaraderie.
As a result, team members build stronger relationships, communicate better, cooperate more, and ultimately register an increase in productivity.
Development of future leaders
Collaborative leadership involves developing and empowering team members. By delegating responsibilities, providing autonomy, and encouraging individual growth, collaborative leaders help build a pipeline of future leaders within the organisation.
This approach fosters a culture of continuous learning and development, preparing individuals for leadership roles and succession planning.
Positive organisational culture
When collaboration, open communication, and mutual respect are promoted, it cultivates an environment where people feel valued and supported. This, in turn, leads to high job satisfaction, increased employee retention, and a positive reputation for the company.
You can read more about the benefits of a positive company culture here.
How to implement collaborative leadership in your company
With a better understanding of what collaborative leadership is and how it can benefit your company, you might be thinking of encouraging this approach in your organisation and adopting a democratic leadership style yourself.
Implementing collaborative leadership is an ongoing process. It is important that you continually assess the needs of your employees and listen to their feedback.
Here are some steps you can take to use collaborative leadership in your business:
1. Foster a collaborative culture
Set the tone by promoting a collaborative culture within your organisation. Encourage open communication, teamwork, and mutual respect among team members. Create an environment where collaboration is valued and recognised as essential for success.
2. Set a clear vision and goals
Establish a clear vision and shared goals that align with your organisation’s mission. Communicate these goals to your team and involve them in the goal-setting process. Ensure that individual objectives are aligned with the overall vision to foster a sense of collective purpose.
3. Encourage active participation
Actively involve team members in decision-making processes. Seek their input, ideas, and perspectives when making important decisions. Encourage active participation during meetings, brainstorming sessions, and problem-solving activities. Create opportunities for everyone to contribute and share their expertise.
4. Promote open communication
Create channels and platforms for open and transparent communication. Encourage team members to share information, ideas, and feedback freely.
Foster a culture where questions and suggestions are welcomed and regularly provide updates on progress, challenges, and achievements to keep everyone informed.
5. Build strong relationships
Emphasise the importance of building strong relationships within your team and across departments. Encourage collaboration and cooperation, and provide opportunities for team members to interact and connect with each other. Foster a supportive and inclusive environment where trust and respect are nurtured.
6. Develop collaborative skills
Provide training and development opportunities to enhance team members’ collaborative skills. Offer workshops or seminars on active listening, conflict resolution, effective communication, and problem-solving techniques. Equip your team with the necessary skills to collaborate effectively and navigate challenges.
7. Delegate and empower
Delegate responsibilities and empower team members to make decisions within their areas of expertise. Trust their abilities and provide them with the autonomy to take ownership of their work. Encourage risk-taking and innovation while providing support and guidance as needed.
8. Encourage learning and continuous improvement
Foster a learning mindset within your team. Encourage experimentation, knowledge sharing, and continuous improvement. Create a culture where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities, and celebrate successes and achievements as a team.
9. Recognise and reward collaboration
Acknowledge and appreciate collaborative efforts and achievements. Recognise team members who demonstrate collaborative leadership skills and contribute to the success of collaborative initiatives. Provide incentives, rewards, or recognition programs that highlight and reinforce the importance of collaboration.
10. Lead by example
As a leader, model collaborative behaviour and practices. Be an active listener, seek input from others, and demonstrate respect for diverse perspectives. Embrace feedback and be open to new ideas. Your actions will set the tone and inspire others to adopt collaborative leadership practices.
Collaborative leadership is a powerful approach for businesses to navigate challenges and promote growth. By embracing this style, organisations can tap into the collective wisdom, creativity, and diverse perspective of their teams, leading to enhanced problem-solving, increased innovation, and improved outcomes.
There are many different ways of embracing collaborative leadership, and people interested in making their work environment more democratic and inclusive can adopt multiple styles to make their employees feel more welcomed and respected.
The aim of collaborative leadership is to achieve common goals collectively, acknowledging the part each person plays in the work ahead. With all the benefits offered by this approach, there is no doubt encouraging a more inclusive work environment is the way to growth and success.