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Why Collaborative Leadership is a Catalyst for Change
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Why Collaborative Leadership is a Catalyst for Change

As the world undergoes rapid change, so too must leaders adapt.

October 13, 2020
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

Collaborative leadership has been getting a lot of buzz, and for good reason.

A challenger to traditional organizational hierarchies, collaborative leadership dismantles departmental silos. As a result, teams become more interconnected in their communications and processes. Information gets more efficiently disseminated, clarified, and built upon.

For organizations that employ collaborative leadership, it seems things simply run better.

However, can collaborative leadership create a competitive advantage for organizations in a fast-changing, complex era?

A survey of 262 managers published by the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development says that the answer is yes. The researchers concluded that “there is a positive relationship between collaborative leadership and performance” in participating organizations.

If you’re looking to upgrade your organization’s approach to leadership and communication, read on to find out how collaborative leadership paves the way.

What is Collaborative Leadership?

Collaborative leadership may be rising in popularity now, but its building blocks have been around for decades. This makes answering the question of who invented collaborative leadership hard to answer.

However, it’s worth noting that methods resembling collaborative leadership have been used in industries like nursing, healthcare, and education since the 1940s.

What does collaborative leadership look like?

In a nutshell, it’s a leadership style that empowers team members across departmental and positional boundaries.

In an organization practicing collaborative leadership, every team member is encouraged to communicate with those in other departments and roles, effectively flattening traditional hierarchies. Rather than information trickling down an organizational chart, it is spread laterally across the organization.

This contemporary leadership style reshapes team culture into something truly collaborative, helping every team member feel invested in organizational outcomes.

When looking at a leader who uses collaborative leadership, you can expect to see a genuine desire to create value for all, willingness to share skills and information, and openness to navigating non-linear trains of thought. An executive or manager who uses collaborative leadership is not held back by convention.

Why Collaborative Leadership is Effective

To understand why collaborative leadership is effective, it’s important to understand how traditional leadership can be ineffective. Top-down leadership is quickly becoming outdated. In that model, information flows one way, distilled at each level, and there is little to no cross-functionality between departments.

In today’s fast-paced landscape—and especially thanks to advances in technology—it’s more important than ever to be agile, leverage an entire team’s talent, and share data quickly to inform decision-makers.

Collaborative leadership makes this possible by empowering every team member to speak up.

Whether it’s about a new idea that can improve internal operations or a potential problem with a product about to be rolled out, open communication means organizations can access and act on information faster. This encourages every individual to contribute all of their insights, experiences, and talents to the success of the entire team.

How to Implement Collaborative Leadership

The first step to implementing collaborative leadership is to unify the entire team under a common goal. Most organizations have a mission or vision statement, but how familiar are team members with that statement? More importantly, how invested in it are they?

A team that rallies behind a shared vision provides collaborative leadership a solid foundation from which to grow. Once this foundation is laid, the next step is leading by example.

Knowing how to demonstrate collaborative leadership will affect the success of your efforts. You can’t expect your team to feel comfortable changing the way they communicate overnight.

Lead by example by communicating openly yourself and providing frequent opportunities for team members to do the same safely. Build communication skills for managers and encourage them to share these skills with their teams.

If you’re not sure whether your efforts are working, it’s also helpful to know how to measure collaborative leadership. One way to do this is to ask for feedback from your team about how they feel about their contributions to the organization’s goals. This feedback can be gained through 1-on-1 meetings, surveys, or even anonymous polls.

Tips for An Effective Collaborative Leadership Model

Giving it your best, but not seeing success? Here are some tips on how to improve collaborative leadership and get the most from it:

  • Approach team members as equals. Collaborative leadership only works if everyone feels empowered to speak up and participate. By shutting team members down, you close that door. Instead, listen to managers and other team members earnestly. What they have to say is just as important as what executives have to say.
  • Be vulnerable. If leaving the metaphorical door open doesn’t seem to be working, it could be that team members aren’t sure how to approach this new take on leadership. Try asking for help with a specific task or project to elicit participation and encourage input and feedback.
  • Integrate workflows. One barrier to implementing collaborative leadership is that it can feel like just another thing on a long to-do list. Do your best to make collaborative leadership a natural part of your workflows by integrating into your practices and processes.

For businesses and organizations trying to stay competitive this year and beyond, collaborative leadership offers a way to make sure information and ownership are shared across departments. This makes teams more informed and empowered to make more decisions faster than ever before.

For a collaborative tool that improves your team meetings, check out Hugo and explore whether it has a place in your organization’s tech stack.

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Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

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