3 The impact of collaboration
As the global population becomes better connected and opportunities for collaboration continue to grow, a leader’s ability to build productive relationships and share control is becoming increasingly important.
As individuals from Generations Y (see Week 2 for a reminder) and Z (see Section 1) move through organisations into positions of influence, their emphasis on sharing and partnership will become increasingly prevalent.
In their book Collaborative Leadership: Building Relationships, Handling Conflict and Sharing Control, Archer and Cameron (2013) explain three critical skills and three essential attitudes a collaborative leader needs:
- Mediation – the ability to address conflict constructively and effectively as soon as it arises
- Influencing – the ability to share control and choose the best approach to influencing partners
- Engagingothers – the ability to network and build relationships
- Agility – a forward-looking attitude of mind, coupled with an ability to quickly assimilate facts and ask incisive questions
- Patience – able to take a calm and measured approach, reflecting on new information and giving confidence to others
- Empathy – a willingness to truly listen and be open-minded to the views of others
They go on to lay out a ten-point manifesto for the collaborative leader:
- Seek out conflict early – address it openly and with confidence.
- Don’t expect your partners to have the same objectives as yourself – look for common ground.
- Understand that collaboration is not a zero-sum game – if you want your partners to invest in your success, you must invest in theirs.
- Value and use diversity to find innovative solutions.
- Only get as close and collaborate as much as the situation demands.
- Look to the long-term in relationships.
- Listen hard and then show you have understood what you heard.
- Be clear where the significant ‘points of interdependence’ are in a relationship.
- Engage others in your mission to be a collaborative leader.
- Be authentic in all you do.
Generalising, this research represents a Western view of collaboration, which comes from a more individualistic starting point. Elsewhere in the world, for example East Asia, people have a more naturally collaborative/collectivist approach, stemming from a childhood focused on family and community. What is your experience of collaboration?
Activity 3 Are you collaborative?
Choose one skill and one attitude from Archer and Cameron’s list. Reflect on when you have demonstrated those attributes or seen others do so. In the box below, describe your best example(s).
Being collaborative in your approach is an increasingly important leadership skill and brings many potential benefits. For example, collaborative projects are more likely to win funding; your connections and collaborations will make you better informed about competitors and context; the individuals you add to your network might have an impact on your future career, etc.
Whether you are collaborating with your colleagues or beyond your organisation, the core skills required are the same.
If you are struggling to think of examples of when you’ve demonstrated these skills, talk to your boss or mentor about ways in which you can become more involved in collaborative projects, for example, working across teams or departments.
While some of your team might be excited by the prospect of learning from colleagues overseas, others may see it as an unnecessary complication that will take up valuable time.
Gardner and Mortensen (2015) give the following advice about global collaboration in their online article, ‘Collaborating well in large global teams’:
- Focus on commonalities
- Remind teams of shared goals – make it clear why you’re working globally, what each team brings to the project
- Recognise your interdependence – explain why success depends on the knowledge and experience of those in other locations
- Symmetrise information
- Hold regular virtual meetings to share information and personal experience
- Prioritise team members with the right knowledge and expertise, but also the cultural intelligence to work effectively with global colleagues
- Combine meetings with virtual tours of each other’s locations to set the context
Being clear about the knowledge and experience that each team or individual contributes will help to demonstrate why this collaboration is valuable on a practical level, and if people are able to see each other in their own environments it can make the prospect of working with them seem less complex or daunting.