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Developing Collaborative Leadership


Mon Aug 12 2019

Developing Collaborative Leadership

Can we all agree that today’s world is complex and that we live in unprecedented times?

Can we all agree that today’s world challenges us to find new ways to work together?


Can we all agree that actual survival as crew members on “spaceship earth” may be at risk if we don’t create new ways to collaborate and solve the challenges in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous) world?

If you said yes to these three questions, please read on.

Now, can we all agree that the leader myth of the "lone ranger" is dead in today's complex, fast-moving, VUCA world? That is, the leadership required in a world demanding global interdependence is far beyond the scope of a single leader.

Again, if you said yes, let's talk about what needs to change to shift the focus from developing individual leaders who solve the world's greatest challenges to developing teams that are able to generate more effective, value-added solutions by applying a collaborative mindset (and skill set).

First, what underlying assumptions (or beliefs) do we bring when it comes to the potential of people to get the work done? Are they negative or are they positive assumptions? Positive assumptions are absolutely needed and serve as the foundation to enable us to function with a collaborative mindset (for example, people are basically good and want to contribute and do well).


Second, what values do we hold to support team performance? Typically, these are closely aligned with underlying assumptions. Are they individual values or are they team values that support collaboration? Most of us don't really know how to collaborate in organizations with cultures that promote individual performance over team performance. The challenge is changing the individual and organizational values for practicing genuine team collaboration. As I said in, Focus On Them, “Just as good is the enemy of great, could it be that individual values are the enemy of organization values, such as teamwork?” (ATD Press 2018).

Third, what operating principles will the team adopt to harness the power of connections across the team's network, demonstrating a collaborative mindset to produce win-win outcomes? These are shared principles embedded within the team, applied to promote team interdependence (along with related processes and protocols). For organizations seeking to practice genuine team collaboration, a high level of interdependence is required. In my book the Collaborator, I introduced 11 operating principles that provide a framework to practice team interdependence, including rely on each other, focus on team–not position, and charge the team to perform the work (DW Press 2007).

Fourth, what competencies are in place to support collaboration? Described as collaboration's skill set, these competencies are focused on collaboration, aligned with the team's operating principles, and can be learned; for example, team player, conflict management, change agility, team management, creative problem solving, and communicativeness.

And fifth, what commitments are you and your organization willing to make to team coaching to sustain performance improvement? Research tells us that team coaching is necessary to sustain this improvement; without it (from either an internal or external coach), team performance will likely suffer.

The end-game is to apply a team platform using assumptions, principles, values, and competencies to develop a collaborative mindset and skill set. This platform is then used to support people who are practicing genuine collaboration in the workplace.


Peter Drucker is known for his quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We know this quote is true because about 75 percent of strategic acquisitions have failed due to the incompatibility of cultures to mesh. We also know that culture is the overwhelming reason why collaboration eludes organizations. A team platform alone will not get the job done unless other cultural aspects, such as hiring processes, promotion processes, training and development processes, and compensation processes, are aligned with an organization’s commitment to establish a culture of collaboration. When that’s been established, the team platform can be used to drive decisions regarding hiring, promotions, training and development, and so on. Linking collaboration’s competencies to these processes is key to reinforcing your organization’s commitment (for example, mindset) to sustaining a culture of collaboration.

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