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Collaborative leaders take a more open approach in society – and in the workplace. Team building, power sharing and participation are replacing the traditional forms of corporate hierarchy. The world is changing and the workplace is changing with it. The future for successful innovation requires collaborative leadership – inside and outside your organisation.

Take The Coca-Cola Company as an example. It takes two litres of water to make one litre of Coca-Cola – in a world where water scarcity is becoming more problematic and the dollar cost of production is rising. Coca-Cola’s Chairman and CEO, Muhtar Kent, recognised that they could not solve their water supply issues on their own and broadened their stakeholder partnerships to include governments and expert non-profit organisations. Through effective collaboration, Coca-Cola is 35% on the way to meeting its 2020 target for water neutrality and is regarded as an industry leader in this area.[1]

What could collaborative leadership mean for your organisation?

A collaborative environment is creative and beneficial to an organisation. Any change can be viewed as difficult, but putting some collaborative techniques in place is a smart business decision that pays dividends in the long run. New ideas and expertise can come from unexpected quarters in your organisation – or from outside it.

Follow our 10-Step checklist to assess how your organisation can embrace collaboration for innovation success:

1. What’s your leadership style?

To lead transformational change, our leaders need to challenge, inspire and support people to be innovative.

2. Does your organisation share its strategy, vision and values?

Employees need a shared vision. They need to believe in this as their future. They need a common sense of purpose and shared values.

3. How is power and influence distributed?

Power is greatest in a collective team. By encouraging equal participation across all levels, solutions can develop from the best ideas and a team approach taken to problem-solving. Collaborative leaders look for the root cause of conflict as it arises and address solutions promptly to keep work moving forward.

4. Is information shared openly?

This is the cornerstone of collaborative leadership. Open information sharing on projects are essential. Customer-centric and design-centric methodologies are at the heart of teamwork.

5. How are ideas generated and encouraged in your organisation?

Leaders recognise that unique insights and different perspectives come from everywhere: team members, customers and partners, both internal and external. They encourage ideas, collaboration and multidisciplinary teams as they know this combination stimulates ideas that will be the future of new business models. They recognise that there are domain experts that are capable of seeding and creating new business models. 

6. How are resources allocated to innovation projects?

Collaborative leaders can help their teams by providing resources without an overly complicated process. Teams should be created and disbanded in an agile way. Projects can develop more rapidly when employees have access to the corporate resources (time, money and materials) necessary to do their jobs efficiently. 

7. How flexible are your organisation’s structures?

In highly demarcated organisations, projects can fail at silo boundaries. In a collaborative environment, the ‘efficiency engine’ and the ‘innovation management system’ are separated so they don’t discourage each other. Flexible structures and people are in place for team-based projects. Teams can be assembled and dis-assembled seamlessly to meet emerging needs.

8. How does your culture, roles, rules and responsibilities shape innovation?

In traditional, hierarchical organisations, information and resources are shared and provided on a ‘needs’ basis. In a collaborative environment, teams are encouraged to work together to break down silos and evolve through organic sharing and co-creation.

9. How do you reward and encourage collaboration?

Leaders and team members are equally valued and work closely together in a collaborative setting. This gives opportunities for immediate and reflective feedback, praise and constructive criticism.

10. How can your organisation encourage ‘Fail fast – learn fast’?

Failure cannot be penalised while searching for new business models where experimentation is key. Employees need to be encouraged within the framework to keep the ideas coming, experiment, validate and learn fast when necessary. Likewise, employees need to be able to imagine a future and work towards it.

[1] Why the world needs tri-sector leaders. Harvard Business Review, Feb 2013

Mary Cronin
Author: Mary Cronin
March 30, 2017
Mary is an innovation specialist, systems thinker and circular economy facilitator. As the founder of UpThink Innovation Agency, Mary works with SMEs and large organisations as a circular economy/climate change/ESG consultant.