How collaborative leadership is driving innovation

How important is collaboration and diversity in corporate leadership? Many leaders have demonstrated the importance of these concepts throughout the years, but what does it constitute of? Collaborative leadership in the general sense is a way of managing people and projects without the concept of functional boundaries. In this way, teams work seamlessly across functions to accomplish shared goals. In current times, that’s all we need. 

A leadership style characterized by command and control doesn’t work in today’s connected world. As professionals, we must work seamlessly with cross-functional teams, people across geographies having diverse backgrounds and expertise, as well as external partners. Leadership is moving from a top-down approach to one that is team-centric, tapping into the collective intelligence of resources and getting them to rally around a common objective.

Think strategy, think collaboration

Collaborative leadership mandates that strategic thinking does not start from one source, it must be the result of active participation and contribution by a cross-functional team. There is no concept of a single leader who is in control of the group, but everyone has the responsibility of guiding and orchestrating the deliverables to accomplish that shared goal. Modern leadership programs, therefore, should be designed to foster collaboration. 

Business-integrated projects will be a case in point here. With teams from diverse backgrounds coming together for a short duration to deliberate on a course of action or to get a prototype ready is a lesson in healthy collaboration and simultaneous learning. 

Yet, leaders may resist collaboration. This happens when the focus is more on routine tasks, driven by personal goals – a transactional and not strategic outlook. If you were to go around and ask people about the relationships they prioritize in their day-to-day job, the common response will be the ones with their team and their manager. Do you know why? It’s because their team delivers what they require, and their manager evaluates them at the end of the year and rewards their contribution.

But such an approach will seldom build client relationships or create value for your customers. The best of the ideas, innovation, and new opportunities come from cross-functional collaboration, and that is the only way a leader can connect the dots and see the bigger picture. A leader must move a notch above networking and become a connector – between people, ideas, and resources – to generate value.

What sets a collaborative leader apart

How does one become a collaborative leader? Collaboration is not about the number of people you know in the organization or how soon you say “yes” to everything. It requires a different mindset.

  1. Open-mindedness: Be open to new ideas and thoughts when working with diverse teams. You should be vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t know; let me hear you out”.
  2. Big picture thinking: Leaders should show the ability to connect the dots and see the long-term picture and envision the result of collaboration towards a shared goal.
  3. Adaptability: Your priorities may shift and there could be delays, but you must be able to keep calm and quickly change course to find your way around.
  4. Clear communication: One must be able to articulate well and keep the conversations structured and focused.

Connecting Diversity, Collaboration, and Innovation

While we are clear on the ideology, we must think about execution now. Having a diverse team can amplify your efforts towards collaboration multifold, as it is important to get people together from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, and cultures to drive innovation. In fact, collaboration across a complex organisational structure is critical to foster a culture of innovation. One must tap into the diversity of thoughts and skills to generate new ideas.

However, simply throwing a mix of people together is not necessarily diversity and may not guarantee high performance. On the other hand, high performance requires inclusive leadership, which ensures that all team members are valued and treated respectfully and fairly. According to a study by the Harvard Business School, teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to perform better; 20% more likely to make good decisions; and 29% more likely to collaborate better. So, diversity and inclusion directly enhance organizational performance.

There is a need to break down the traditional layers of hierarchy and open an organization structure to new concepts, perspectives, and an environment that values collaboration. Such a change in management and leadership can stimulate resources and in turn promote stellar growth and innovation.

This article was first published on Fortune India

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