Collaboration - Leading and Following
"Everyone is a Leader and Everyone is a Follower. In a Collaborative Culture Everyone knows when to Lead and when to Follow."
Have you ever taken the time to ponder what collaboration really is? A lot of people mention collaboration when talking about their company culture or their personal work style. Understanding what collaboration is and what it isn't will empower you to flex your behaviors to become a more effective collaborator. Sharing this knowledge with your peers and then practicing collaborative leadership with your teams will improve both your work experience and results.
Behavioral Building Blocks of Collaboration
Collaboration is a give and take process, between leading and following, asserting and cooperating. For collaboration to fully manifest in a work culture there are some behavioral prerequisites.
1) Everyone must respect and trust each other.
2) Everyone must develop an ability to listen and understand others point of view.
3) Everyone must act as the leader or follower when the team needs them to. Or another way to say this is - Everyone must act assertively or cooperatively as necessary to best achieve group results.
Recognizing Each Others Strengths and Abilities
Understanding team members unique strengths, abilities and knowledge is critical to a highly collaborative process. We must understand how, when and where to best leverage these individual attributes for the best outcomes of the group. An organizational chart with a brief description of each person's role is a good place to start. Adding some specific core competencies or areas of expertise will help team members make better decisions when planning projects and making team member assignments.
The Collaborative Leadership Model
Developing a collaborative culture is a process of practicing and becoming comfortable with being both assertive and cooperative as your team needs you to be. Some of us are naturally more assertive, while others are more cooperative. And there are many people who prefer to work independently, not having to engage in many team driven activities. All of these work styles can be very effective in different work situations. However when we want to fully tap into the talents, knowledge and strengths of our team members to get results, collaboration is a powerful approach.
If you tend towards control, find opportunities to step back and encourage others to take the lead. If you tend to accommodate others, step up and volunteer to lead in an area you have strengths and abilities in. If you realize you are more comfortable working independently, push yourself to work on a team with a challenge you are passionate about. Identify a special talent or strength that you can offer the team to help them move forward.
Conflict and Compromise
Conflict is most productive in a collaborative environment. This is because team members respect each other and understand individual team members strengths. Friction can lead to traction when people are being highly assertive and cooperative. New understanding can surface when people trust each other and share ideas openly. Ideation can lead to innovation, improved process, or quality results.
When the team environment does not exhibit the positive behavior attributes above, team members are reluctant to fully participate either in an assertive or cooperative manner. The result of conflict is compromise. Many of us learned that compromise was the most positive way to handle conflict. But in reality it falls short in results. It is participation on a more limited level and a settling for lesser results than can be obtained through collaboration. Conflict in this space often results in stagnation of ideas and misalignment of individual and team goals.
Perfecting Collaboration - Knowing When to Lead and When to Follow
So how do you know when to lead and when to follow? It's simple. In a collaborative environment you and everyone else will know their place and yours. As teams practice collaboration, they evolve and learn together. Ask yourself how you can best contribute and then offer that to your team. Have a discussion about each role and who is the best person to lead or follow as appropriate. Recognize that there may be multiple leaders and that roles can change as frequently as needed over the life of the group. The important thing is to communicate with each other and practice. Once a collaborative nature takes root in your organization this will become second nature to everyone!