Leading Collaboratively…A 21st Century Necessity

This, from January, 2011.


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 affected 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.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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

Collaboration from Wikipedia ,  Collaborative LeadershipDefining Collaborative Leadership



Filed under building awareness, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

2 responses to “Leading Collaboratively…A 21st Century Necessity

  1. sparktheaction

    Gwyn, what a great post for a Sunday morning – Thank you!
    One of the leadership challenges I have found in building a ‘project-based’ focus, is to create an environment where differences of opinion are allowed and valued. Another is to very carefully create the teams – you can’t just randomly put people together and expect they will be productive. Great care has to be given to the varied skill sets of each member of the team. The leader must then blend those skills together for the best possible chance for success.

    Great appreciation for your thoughts,
    Best regards,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carl ~ I guess you could say that building a team is really an art, with each of its members being an artist. It can also be inexact and messy but to your point, can be made less so if careful thought is given to its initial construction. Thank you for that and for coming by!

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