Leading Collaboratively…a 21st Century Necessity

I don’t know about you, but when I was little, one of the things my parents were always on about was the importance of playing well with others.  In school too, I was encouraged, along with my classmates, to work together to complete projects and participate in sports events.

Then, in adulthood I got a job and for some reason, the emphasis there was not about that.  It was more about doing what I was told.  It was about individual survival and competition.  And somehow, while civility remained (for the most part anyway), a spirit of collaboration, where people shared information and resources freely to achieve something important together was rare.

In childhood we could perhaps afford to run afoul of collaborative efforts.  Then, the consequences were fairly minor.  But, as adults, we must go beyond the notion that collaboration is something we do to be nice. More and more, it is becoming something we must become skilled in if we are going to survive.

By now, most of us know why that is, at least on a global scale. In our current economy we are having to learn how to do more with less.  Our successes often depend on the successes of others, not only other individuals, but also other countries, other continents even.  Technology, too, has brought us closer together and the opportunities we have to develop relationships and work with others on-line are many and varied.

But what does this means to a leader at ground level, the woman or man who goes to work every day with the responsibilities associated with leading a group of others in the achievement of seemingly everyday things?  What part does s/he play in this collaborative effort?

Well, for one thing, I don’t believe it possible for one person to successfully demand collaboration from another.  It’s usually something we choose to do, or not.  And to me, that means that leaders at all levels must find ways to make it worth choosing.

So, if you are a leader, wondering how to help people in your place of work choose collaboration over other, more independent approaches to getting work done, I’ve had a couple of thoughts that may help.

Provide Clarity of Purpose

There is no doubt that people work much better together when they are certain about what they are working to achieve. We should not assume that everyone involved is clear about the goal. Clarity of purpose also includes ensuring that those involved have a shared understanding about why the work (and the achievement of it), is important and what working together in a common interest can accomplish that working out of self interest could not.

Offer Appropriate Reward

It is often the case that while we talk a lot about collaborative work in organizations, our reward systems frequently continue to acknowledge individual effort disproportionately.  This makes it difficult for people to choose collaboration over internal competition.  So, to me, the task for the leader is to model and acknowledge group effort at every opportunity and reward group achievement both in tangible ways and in ways that appeal intrinsically to its participants.  Or, simply put, rewards are structured in a way that people gain a sense of deeper satisfaction from working together than from working individually.

Share Freely

Sharing information and assets between and among various concerns is fundamental to effective collaboration. It is the leader’s role to demonstrate this by discouraging hoarding and secretive behaviour; by being candid with their views and generous with resources; and by helping others see that doing so will bring them closer to achieving their collective goal and enriching their personal experience.

Avoid Potential Pitfalls

Some people might think that collaborating requires us to always get along.  However, when we work together authentically, we are not always going to agree so taking unnecessary pains to avoid conflict in the group, often serves to impede its progress. As well, it is tempting to collaborate only with like-minded people for the same reason. On the other hand effective collaboration can be negatively impacted if people get into the habit of attacking each other instead of the issues that get in their way.  So, the leader’s job is to strive for and encourage a balance that allows for healthy discussion, respectfully and productively conducted.

All this sounds like work.  And it is.  But, collaboration, when carried out effectively can produce wondrous things. Like this:

The bottom line is this. Whether we are engaged in for-profit business, non-profit organizations or more philanthropic efforts, our ability to work together in the pursuit and achievement of a common purpose has never been more critical. And, if our individual experience has so far not allowed us the opportunity to collaborate with others, now would be a good time to start, regardless of where we lead, or at what level.

What do you think?


p.s. Here are some links you may find interesting:

Collaboration from Wikipedia ,  Collaborative Leadership, Defining Collaborative Leadership



Filed under building awareness, communication, Employee engagement, Leading Teams, organizational Development

20 responses to “Leading Collaboratively…a 21st Century Necessity

  1. Gwyn,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. For major progress to occur, it is so important for people to work together in teams. Although there are many very talented individuals, they only see things from one perspective which at times is very one-sided. By working in teams, people are able to see things from many different perspectives. The group perspective is much more broad and will help people to produce the best final product. Thanks, Brandon

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Brandon,

      Yes, I agree. Collaboration is an essential element of successful teams. I also think it has a major place in groups and really anywhere where two or more people work together.
      Thanks for coming by and for taking the time to add your voice!

  2. Hi Gwyn,

    It’s great writing a response while I’ve got the music from the video playing in the background 🙂 We’re working on this alot at the moment and I couldn’t agree more with the importance and need for a change to a more collaborative way of working. I would support the need to find a common purpose but I think people all too often find they are trying to communicate a purpose rather than co-creating it. When faced with the complex problems which require collaborative working a person is often in a position where they have to work with othes equally or more senior, or with more power, so finding this purpose can be as hard as communicating it. Well done for raising the topic. We interviewed a few people on it a whil ago and got some interesting reflectiosn (I thought you may like to add it as a related link. http://www.commonpurpose.org.uk/customised/collab

    Regards, Ollie

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Ollie,
      Yes, you have made me think further about the challenges working to a common purpose present, not least of which being its creation in the first place. To your point, the purpose of any group endeavour has a better chance of remaining clear and intact if it is co-created. Otherwise, I expect it has a way of drifting off in a number of different directions.
      Thank you very much for the link. The video demonstrates some real time challenges to creating a truly collaborative environment.
      And, thank you too, for coming by and adding much value to the post! 🙂

  3. Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more. Congratulations on your 100th post.

  4. Gwyn,

    There are two points in this piece about collaboration that I don’t think we hear enough and probably why there’s still such a struggle to see it take flight in most organizations.

    The first one is recognizing that collaboration shouldn’t be enforced but celebrated and the second that collaboration shouldn’t be used as an excuse to temper any dissent; rather, collaboration should use divergent opinions/viewpoints as opportunities to truly assess what is the best approach and use of our shared resources.

    Perhaps if more emphasis was put on these two points, we’d get more movement on collaboration as leaders and employees would have a better understanding of what’s involved.

    By the way, congratulations on this being your 100th post, Gwyn. Looking forward to the next 100 to come.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Tanveer,

      Yes, I think you have touched the core of the issues we, as individuals tend to have when we hear the word “collaboration”. And, often I think we tend to focus on what we stand to lose by working with others as opposed to what we stand to gain. So, to your point, if those who lead, consult on the topic, or encourage collaboration were to address those areas more consistently, perhaps some inroads could be made.
      Thank you for your usual thoughtful observations, Tanveer.
      As for the next 100 posts, I’m not sure I have it in me to be that wordy but I’ll give it shot 🙂

  5. Wow, Gwyn. This is excellent, and congrats on the milestone. And wouldn’t you know – as so often happens – I wrote a post on collaboration from a different angle and put it up today. You and I are in sync!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Mary Jo,

      I think we should make this collaboration week! I look forward to reading your post. I find it very satisfying to be in sync with you. Thank you for the congrats and for coming by. It’s always nice to see you here 🙂

  6. Hello Gwyn,

    Definitely agree that collaboration is the way to go. Great points about clarity of purpose, rewards, sharing openly, and Ollie’s one about co-creation. I think many times collaboration becomes difficult because people don’t have the skills of effective communication. If they are too busy making assumptions, and talking without taking time to listen and reflect, collaboration is almost impossible.

    Being able not only to tolerate, but to encourage diversity of thought will go a long ways in inviting co-creation and collaboration. As one of my clients in a group of executives said the other day: “Slowing down and being more reflective results in more collaboration and efficient outcomes.”

    Thanks again for a great thought provoking post.

    Dr. Ada

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Dr. Ada
      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion. Your point about encouraging diversity of thought is particularly important. It has made me think that diversity of experience, of culture, and of perspectives all have a place in collaborative efforts and when valued, make for a richer outcome.
      I found this quote the other day that speaks to that. It goes:
      “We could learn a lot from crayons: some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others are bright, some have weird names, but we have to learn to live in the same box.” – Anonymous
      Here’s the link where the quote came from in case you want to read more:
      Thank for coming by!

  7. Great article!

    Having spent most of my career in technology sectors, I have experienced more collaborative environments than not. In the places I have seen that have struggled, the company culture hasn’t mastered the points you have outlined. For me, the most important points are the clarity of purpose and sharing freely. I think collaboration starts there. Without clear vision and open communications, the rest won’t follow.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Liza,
      Thanks for sharing your experience and observations. They lead me to remark that the degree to which we are willing to collaborate is often tied to how deeply the company we work in is entrenched in its culture. In an organization that values internal competition, collaboration becomes that much more difficult to “sell”. Thanks for helping me think some more and for coming by.

  8. Right on, Gwyn! Thanks for this post, and for the reminder of that wonderful video, which we have used in our courses on occasion. It’s so true and ironic what you say, that we are taught to play nice early on, and by the time we become adults, we have forgotten how, which is devastating in times like these that demand that we be better together, period! If you are interested, here are a few of posts that speak to our work around building collaborative capacity for social change:



    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Curtis, One of the things I like about writing this blog is that with each comment, the posts become better . This is true of your comment here and the links you have provided. Thank you very much for adding value and for demonstrating that collaboration makes for a richer result.

  9. Pingback: Spring is the Air with NOWLeadership Carnival | Geronimo Coaching Now

  10. Pingback: NOWLeadership | Blog | Nine Months of Tapestry Weaving

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