Collaborative Leadership: Building Agile Teams for Continuous Improvement

Collaborative Leadership: Building Agile Teams for Continuous Improvement

By Cara Sloman, Force4 Technology Communications 

As the workplace continues to change, so does the way leaders interact with their distributed teams. The leadership pendulum is swinging toward a more collaborative, inclusive framework. What does that look like? 

Collaborative leadership involves seeking input from team members, while traditional leadership is more unilateral in decision-making. Adopting collaborative leadership practices can inspire and empower teams, which can lead to increased adaptability and agility. Examples of such practices go beyond holding regular team meetings and using collaboration tools to include more 360-degree feedback, team building activities, and employee recognition programs. 

This type of leadership fosters a culture of continuous improvement. Collaborative leaders promote open communication and encourage employees to share their ideas and solutions to address challenges. Regular improvement discussions provide opportunities for team members to reflect on progress, identify what’s working well and brainstorm new ideas for improvement. 

It’s important to balance authority and empowerment within this paradigm. While empowering team members, collaborative leaders must also set boundaries to maintain accountability and ensure alignment with organizational goals. Collaborative leaders provide a clear sense of purpose and direction to maintain focus, while still empowering team members to make decisions and contribute their expertise. 

Strategies for Promoting Innovation and Creativity 

To encourage innovative, creative thought in a collaborative setting, I recommend these three strategies: 

  1. Maintain strong communication. New management and leadership problems, particularly in the areas of transparency and idea sharing, can sometimes result from today’s work-from-anywhere policies, as the physical separation of team members can lead to communication gaps and hinder the spontaneous exchange of innovative concepts that often occur in a traditional office setting. Setting the correct tone and promoting supportive, truthful communication are crucial as teams use more collaborative communication channels to interact. Encourage openness and give each team member the chance to feel as though they have valuable information and abilities to offer a project.  
  2. Create purpose and clarity by showing each team member how their work contributes to the company’s objectives. Define team rules and agreements to guide how the team interacts and collaborates. Give a detailed breakdown of the roles and reporting. If you have a distributed workforce, be sure to clarify meeting and working times for people who are in different time zones.  
  3. Encourage a partnering mindset. This entails accepting that each person’s experience within the working group will be unique. At the same time, the collaborative leader establishes a coalition of followers who share the same vision. To accomplish this, you must be able to establish productive work partnerships, know each team member’s interests and communicate in the appropriate tone and manner.

Potential Drawbacks and Risks of Collaborative Leadership 

Workplace conflict is a frequent reality that can reduce productivity and limit a team’s ability to meet deadlines and goals. When conflict emerges in team meetings, collaborative leaders don’t avoid it. Instead, they should promote a constructive dialogue that aims to resolve the problem and enhance connections within the group. 

Another possible drawback is taking the concept of collaboration too far. Collaboration without guideposts could result in a team that never says “No.” This runs the risk of the person with the most confident assertiveness or the biggest viewpoint getting the team’s ear and acquiescence. This may result in chasing a single person’s desired results rather than in innovative thinking. 

Tips for Aspiring Collaborative Leaders 

Finding balance as a collaborative leader is a challenging process that is influenced by several variables, including how hard or complex the assignment is, the team members’ skill levels and the timeliness of the task. Consider your team’s strengths and weaknesses when assigning tasks to strike a balance. Progress should be watched over and evaluated, but interference should be minimal. Offer your team members guidance, appreciation and constructive criticism. And give your team members the freedom to decide, resolve issues and recommend improvements – as long as they fall within their purview. 

Aspiring leaders can seek resources and training to develop effective collaborative leadership skills. Developing strong communication and relationship-building skills are essential for collaborative leaders to succeed. Mentorship and feedback from experienced leaders can help aspiring collaborative leaders refine their approach. This can happen during activities like attending networking events, peer-to-peer feedback, executive feedback surveys and participating in leadership training programs. 

Toward Better Teamwork 

As organizations seek to engage distributed teams and find more effective ways to lead, you may already be using some aspects of a collaborative approach. Take what you need from the above recommendations and best practices to build a more agile team that wants to continuously improve – and that works agreeably and productively together.  

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