Collaborative Leadership: How To Drive Shared Success

June 11, 2021
June 26, 2023
Knowledge Sharing

You’ve got geniuses all over your organisation, whether you’ve realised it yet or not! And it’s one of the reasons why we no longer learn in the top-down fashion, where a few people higher up are responsible for all L&D.

Subject matter experts exist in different teams and it’s partly why we’re seeing a rise in learning platforms focused on democratising learning and knowledge sharing. You might have heard the term user-generated content before? Learners are now doing a similar thing when it comes to creating content in organisations, and that is fostering this feeling of collaboration in the workplace.

Wait a minute, this is meant to be an article about collaborative leadership, right? Yes! But there are so many similarities between this movement for democratising learning and the growth of collaborative leadership that we really need to talk about the two together.

Plus, we’ll tackle how you can become a collaborative leader, the benefits of building this type of environment and what a modern leadership might look like.

What is collaborative leadership?

It’s another one of those ‘clue’s in the name’ situations! Collaborative leadership is all about working collaboratively to solve problems and involving more of your team in the mission to achieve your goals. Rather than managers making all of the decisions, they adopt a facilitator role and bring others to the table to share their ideas.

Typically that means working across teams, to tap into the transferable skills, passion and creativity of anyone that might help you strategise more effectively. This brings a whole host of benefits, from empowering people and making them feel valued to democratising the sharing of ideas and busting knowledge out of silos.

That’s why this concept and the features of many modern learning platforms feel so similar – and why we believe a learning platform could play a key role in successful collaborative leadership. As we dig into the benefits, we’ll try to make the learning platform’s case as a key tool for pulling this collaboration off.

The benefits of a collaborative leadership approach and the role of the learning platform

Collaborative leadership Could a learning platform be your secret weapon for shared success

How learning platforms can drive collaborative leadership

Crack open silos and tap into transferable skills

Collaboration is a little like one of those friendship groups where someone has a reputation for being the hermit. They’re happy on their own but when you twist their arm and get them to come out, they have an amazing time and really bring something else to the table. When we work in silos, we can be productive and content but we might be far happier and able to produce more when we engage with others.

Imagine you’re working in the product team and a project pops up where you need to revamp the dashboard. You could plough ahead alone or with a few of that team, but you’ll miss out on all the skills that exist in other departments – so you need to be leveraging the collaborative leaders and internal experts as your disposal.

Collaborating with your customer success reps might give you better insight into the end-user perspective, the marketing team can probably add something from a messaging or branding perspective and the design staff can help shape better layout conversations if you get them involved sooner.

When we talk about collaborative leadership, that doesn’t mean only collaborating with those who’ve got management titles! People can be leaders without a formal title, because leaders are people we want to follow! In fact, these are often the best types of leaders (compared to those we feel obligated to listen to).

The two big questions this throws up for a lot of people are who do we connect with and where do we connect with them? And it’s a fair point, having structure and a central place to manage the project makes the process far easier.

This first question is where collaborative leadership meets the need to measure skills. After all, if you don’t know which people have which transferable skills, good luck transferring them to a shared purpose! In HowNow, we help you build a skills profile for each person – a place to measure which talents they’ve got and how proficient they are.

What adding skills to HowNow looks like. Description of what makes a competent skill

How measuring skills in HowNow can help you drive targeted, collaborative leadership

That part around having a place to connect is something we’ll cover in the other benefits we’re going to discuss in this piece.

Provide places to communicate and create networks

Sometimes it’s a Slack Channel, other times it’s one overwhelmingly long email thread, it might even be a shared spreadsheet – but where we manage our collaborative projects can have a noticeable impact on how effective they are.

Especially when we think about building relationships – and that’s why the places we’ve listed off aren’t necessarily the best because they can feel busy, cluttered and chaotic. It’s also worth considering where collaboration is happening organically! People might have a regular meeting in the calendar or a Slack channel dedicated to certain problems, which can give us more momentum.

You know the saying horses for courses? Well, in this case, that translates to establishing the best platform to manage a project, based on the context of that project. THIS is a collaborative leadership superpower…

We prefer to use groups and channels in HowNow! A group is exactly how it sounds, you’ll make a list of people for your team or project, create a group with them in and then assign the relevant content and upload it to that group as you build out the project. A channel is a way to tag content related to a certain topic or project so that it can all be found in one central place.

Using Groups and Channels in HowNow

How using learning groups in HowNow can help you create collaborative leadership and learning.

Rather than scrolling through your message history to find something or poking around in a huge shared folder, it’s there in your channels or at the end of a quick search – in the same platform where all your other relevant resources live.

Speaking of channels, you might be curious about how this all works in practice! We’ve got the perfect place to channel that curiosity and it’s in our on-demand product demo – where we’ll show you how channels, groups and the rest of our learning platform works to drive collaborative leadership.

Building relationships

When you’re bringing together the right people and giving them a place to collaborate, you’re giving them all the tools to build relationships. Especially if they’ve not worked on projects together in the past, collaborative leadership provides them with a better understanding of who does what within the company – something that can help people become more independent in seeking out subject matter experts or sharing knowledge.

When you’re doing that within a learning platform like HowNow, you’re giving them the tools to interact freely and in more forms! They can create live classes or meetings to brainstorm ideas and upload those for those who want to watch on demand. There’s the option to switch discussions on for the content you’re uploading and use that as a direct means of capturing feedback or building out shared ideas too.

Bringing remote colleagues together

It’s fair to say we’re more displaced, remote and physically disconnected from our colleagues than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate! Whatever tech you’re using, figure out how it can be used to bring your remote employees together and empower them to collaborate!

It’s easy for people to keep their head down and work in those silos or to feel a little left out or disconnected when they’re working remotely, but a shift towards this collaborative mindset could be that virtual pat on the back they all need. Collaborative leadership is about ensuring people have the same platform and access whether they’re working in person or at home!

The benefits that have less to do with learning platforms

Yes, we’re a learning platform so hopefully, you can forgive us for focusing on those benefits first but there are plenty more when it comes to collaborative leadership!

Sharpening soft skills

Great leaders and good colleagues have those personal skills that make them fun to work with – and a collaborative style gives people the environment to hone those. Leaders can become more empathetic to how people work because they’re coming into contact more frequently, teammates can understand how their peers like to work and channel that into their social skills.

And overall, it’s creating an element of this across your organisation as you continue to do it! So, before you know it, you’ve got a culture for collaboration and teams packed full of people with enviable social skills.

Improving diversity across projects through collaborative leadership

When you’re involving more people in projects and basing that around skills, perspectives and ideas, you’re going to have more diverse and interesting groups of people working together on projects. Especially when we consider that remote collaboration aspect because you’re removing location as a barrier and ensuring that people from different cultures are involved.

Then you’ve got the fact that if you’re bringing in people from different departments or background, they are approaching it with new perspectives and fresh eyes! That’s another massive benefit of collaborative leadership, you’re crowdsourcing the problem solving by involving more people. And diverse teams produce that outside-the-box thinking to hurdle challenges and hit goals.

Creating a culture of trust

There’s no better feeling than knowing your opinion is valued, that you’re trusted to bring great ideas to the table and your colleagues have trust in your abilities. From the perspective a collaborative leader, you need people to trust you but they have to feel like it’s a two-way street – bringing them into projects is a perfect way to pull that off.

A bi-product of that trust is that people often take more ownership and feel confident to take initiative! And the collaborative process also makes it easier to provide more critical or negative feedback with the trust that it’s going to be taken in the spirit it’s intended.

The creation of future leaders

When leadership doesn’t feel like a top-down and controlled hierarchy, more people have a chance to hone their leadership skills. Whether that’s taking the responsibility for a certain project or mentoring someone else as part of the progress, these are often things that happen organically when we work together towards a shared purpose.

If you can build collaborative leadership around a problem to be solved, you’ll also build evidence that you’ve solved it and create a positive feedback loop around the approach.

How to become a collaborative leader

Network with people and build a sense of community

Do you know one thing that good collaborative leaders do? They build spiderwebs of connections across the organisation and keep their ears to the ground.

Essentially, you should aim to understand three things.

  • People’s current pain points: Where are they facing friction day-to-day in their processes?
  • People’s problems: What’s stopping them from reach their goals and performance objectives?
  • People’s pipelines: What are they working on, and what have they got comin up?

The more you understand these, the better you can facilitate the right people coming together to reach shared goals. This is a core pillar of collaborative leadership.

A collaborative environment will happen organically to some extent, and it’s crucial to understand where and how that’s happening! But collaborative leaders should also aim to foster this sense of community wherever and however they can by bringing people together.

And if you’re able to show people how the collaboration is helping them overcome a challenge or reach a goal, you’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll want to do it again in the future.

Build practice environments and test on a small scale

It’s a little bit of a HowNow mantra, but always try to think big and start small!

Rather than trying to run before you walk or understand whether something big is a good idea, test it on a small scale and see if it works.

For example, we might not have any collaboration between leaders right now. So rather than trying to start a group with every single one in it, maybe we bring three together for a project and see if it works.

If so, let’s expand. If not, how can we improve and test again.

The idea is to prioritise testing and timing over perfection. Why spend six months planning only to find something doesn’t work, when we could test a version over three weeks and understand its potential far faster.

On a similar theme, we could be creating low pressure environments that allow us to practice and build our collaborative leadership ideas. Whether that’s a mock roundtable or a test run at 360 feedback for a performance review, it helps us build the skills without the fear of negative consequences.

Be transparent about successes, failures, and lessons learned

If you’re going to be a great collaborative leader, you can’t pick and choose when you want to involve people.

Transparency is a fundamental part of collaborative leadership, and for good reason. Let’s take those small scale tests as an example, we can get people to buy into it more effectively if we’re communicating what we learned (good and bad) and what we’re going with that information.

Celebrate your successes, own your failures, but always involve people who played a part.

Build a feeling of psychological safety among people

The previous two points won’t work unless we’re all ok with trying something, it not going to plan and the world suddenly not ending. And this is especially true with collaborative leadership!

Remember, we might be asking people who don’t have management titles to lead, and that looming organisational chart can hang over people. A junior member might have to challenge someone in the C-Suite and that can be daunting.

But when we become collaborative leaders, it’s crucial that we’re removing that hierarchy and giving everyone the space to contribute. There can’t be a sense that negative consequences might come our way if we do push back on ideas, and that’s a feeling that we’re all responsible for fostering.

And it’s one of those, the more we do it and get positive responses, the easier and more naturally it happens. So, if it’s the first time you’re doing something like this, be really mindful of creating a positive feedback loop. Because if everything feels like it’s gone to pot, we’re all much less likely to embrace collaborative leadership in the future.

Make collaboration the start point for projects

Nobody wants to feel like a spare part! Missing the main context at the start and brought in just for their part…

Collaborative leadership is about uniting the right people behind a shared purpose to have the right impact. So, consider all the relevant stakeholders and get them on a call to establish the purpose, timelines and outcomes for whatever it is you’re working on!

It’s not just about being involved but being given the chance to have your voice heard and shape the direction. People are motivated by purpose and, as a collaborative leader, it’s your goal to connect them to it!

This is really a reminder to consider the context! What droves us to this point? What does success look like and how do we know when we’ve reached it? These are the sort of subconscious questions might have (or choose to vocalise) and good collaborative leaders know how to answer them.

Use the time you’ll spend together intentionally

This is about finding the balance between synchronous and asynchronous work to make sure any collaborative time is used effectively.

Let’s say we’re kicking off a new project and we’ve got a brief or deck to share with the team. We could wait until the meeting and present to them, or we could share it ahead of time, give everyone time to digest it, and then come together to discuss its content and next steps.

This is often far more efficient and it also allows people to give you better responses. Being shown a presentation and asked to share meaningful feedback on the spot is tough! Having time to gather your thoughts and understand why this is your feedback allows you to articulate yourself better, which improves communications.

Collaborative leaders have to think about how we interact, the ground rules for communication and how we’ll work together.

Capture what you learn as you learn it

Most companies have got a leaky bucket…

They’re sharing valuable knowledge with each other but never capturing it. And when the day comes that people head through the exit door, they lose a huge amount of contextual insights and wisdom. But you can tackle this by capturing stuff as it happens!

You’re working on something together and decided to pick someone else’s brains. They send you a brilliant process or steps to follow in Slack, and then that’s normally lost in the conversation. But if you can find ways to capture those before the discussion moves on, you’ll start plugging the holes in your knowledge bucket.

And this is hugely important for a lot of the collaborative leadership elements we’ve discussed so far. Whether it’s testing something new and analysing the outcomes or finding the most effective ways to work together, there will be best practices we can capture and share with others. This will prevent them from repeating our mistakes and help shortcut them to the promised land of working together.

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