Leadership Effectiveness: Collaboration

Leadership Effectiveness: CollaborationThe bottom-line benefits of collaboration — benefits to the firm and benefits to the individual — are shown in research, such as that reported in When Senior Managers Won’t Collaborate from Harvard Business Review.

One of the most forgotten yet important aspects of effective leadership is the ability to collaborate with others. There is an “art” to how to enhance collaboration so that it is more effective. In our executive coaching practice, we have helped executives and executive teams grapple with this challenge to proactively and successfully achieve positive outcomes.

From our experience, here is what really works:

  1. Look at your company values. Are teamwork, partnering, and collaboration part of the values? If yes, what behaviors define them? For example, in one company, we found this means involving people in decisions that impact them, sharing information, and asking for feedback on the process of doing the job. In another company, collaboration is about working effectively across the system—not just in your own silo or P&L. Here is an HBR interview that addresses better ways of collaborating: Collaborating Better across Silos.
  2. Ask your peers how they define collaboration and do more of what they describe. For example, one executive we are coaching asked all her peers their opinions on what defines collaboration. What she learned was that collaboration meant different things to different internal customers. One group needed more “heads-up” before being asked to make a decision. Another group needed more time to provide information.
  3. Get feedback on the perceptions others have regarding your “collaboration index.” That is, once you know how collaboration is defined in your organization (and specifically by your internal customers), do your own numerical assessment. Also, ask: “This person is effective in collaboration because__________”; and, “This person could be more effective in collaboration if__________.” These explanations will help you understand the numerical rating and give you suggestions for improvement.
    1. Develop an action plan – what are your strengths? What are your opportunities?   Write a plan to improve in your collaboration opportunity areas.
    2. Validate the plan with others to confirm that your actions will address any gaps that might exist.   Continue to “check in” with your internal customers and peers.
    3. Follow-up in 6 months to determine if there has been progress.
  4. Identify the continuum of “conflict” and collaboration. Managing conflict is an integral part of good collaboration. Don’t be afraid of conflict; it will produce a better solution.

And remember to pick the right projects. Your values can be in the right place but tactics can be counterproductive. “Collaboration is highly overrated when you don’t have the right thing to do” (Former Ogilvy CEO Charlotte Beers). Every project is not a candidate for collaboration. Collaboration is required if a project is complex. Complex project’s goals cannot be achieved by one specialist or expertise. A spectrum of talent and ideas is needed for project success.

Do you think your organization’s values promote collaboration? Are there steps you could take to better foster and support collaboration?

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