Collaborative Leadership

How important is collaboration and diversity in corporate leadership? Many leaders have demonstrated the importance of these concepts throughout the years. In this podcast, one of our women leaders, Uma Sankar discusses the importance of collaborative leadership.

  • Big picture thinking: Leaders should possess the ability to see the long-term picture.
  • Adaptability: Leaders must be able to keep calm and quickly change course as needed.
  • Clear communication: Leaders must be able to articulate well and keep the conversations structured and focused.

Podcast Audio Transcript

Alisha: Hello listeners, this is Alisha, back with yet another exciting and informative podcast from Infosys BPM. Today, the topic is collaborative leadership in the corporate world. And to talk about this, we have got one of our women leaders here – Uma Sankar, AVP & Head of Organizational Development at Infosys BPM. Welcome Uma. How are you?

Uma: I’m doing fine. Thank you for having me, Alisha. How are you doing?

Alisha: I’m doing great. Thanks Uma. To start with, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for all of us. Could you please touch upon your experience with the pandemic-induced work from home?

Uma: I wake up every day with a deep sense of gratitude: Gratitude for my health, my family & friends around, and a job that I thoroughly enjoy. On the work front, I had never thought I would work remotely, for as long as I can remember, I have always liked being in office and meeting people.  However, last year gave me a realization that I can often get more done in a shorter amount of time when I work from home.

The not so good thing is it is hard to disconnect from work when working from home. When you shut your laptop at the end of the day, you are still in the same space, as you don’t step out of the building or get into the bus or car. I have to make that extra effort to detach myself from work and set a wrap up routine.

Alisha: I agree, it’s a surreal experience, especially for someone used to working from office. Uma, could you provide an idea of collaborative leadership in general and specific aspects with respect to Infosys BPM?

Uma: Collaborative leadership 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. A leadership style characterized by command and control doesn’t work in today’s connected world. As Professionals, we have to work seamlessly with cross-functional teams, people across geographies having diverse backgrounds and expertise, and many external partners too. It is moving from top down to team centric, tapping into the collective intelligence and getting people to rally around a common objective.

By the way, our Infosys BPM leaders do practice this in our workplace. For instance, at Infosys BPM, every strategic priority that is defined during our annual strategy planning exercise is delivered by a cross-functional team. In this, 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.  Building and unlocking synergies is one of the key dimensions of Infosys Leadership values.

Alisha: Brilliant! And the leadership programs at Infosys BPM also reflect this concept, don’t they?

Uma: Yes, absolutely! All of our leadership programs are designed to foster collaboration. As a case in point, participants work on business-integrated projects for six months with teams from diverse backgrounds coming together to deliberate or to get a prototype ready. In doing so, leaders get to demonstrate their influencing skills, agility and stakeholder management, which are critical as they move up the ladder.

If I were to reflect on my role, some of the most effective leadership programs and organisation development initiatives that we launch in HR are the ones where we have collaborated with CoEs and business leaders. The need, the context, and sponsorship comes from these leaders. This helps in getting a buy in from the stakeholders and also makes these programs far more relevant and effective.

Alisha: I agree, collaborative learning gives you an acceleration in your career growth. Moving on, most leaders are already in control of their respective areas, so it’s possible that some of them may resist collaboration. To leaders who resist collaboration, what would be your advice?

Uma: Yes, you are right that most leaders are experienced and are used to being in control. Few of them may resist collaboration. This happens when the focus is more on the task, driven by personal goals and less about the relationship.

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 one with their team and their manager. 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 the fact is these relationships are not necessarily the ones that 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.

Hence, if you want to have an edge as a leader, you have to be a “connector”. Forget networking, become a connector. There is this book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, where he uses this term “connector” to describe those who can connect people, ideas, and resources to generate value.

Alisha: Yes, I can see why that is important for organizational success. What in your opinion are the typical characteristics a collaborative leader should possess?

Uma: 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.

Firstly, 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”.

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.

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.

And finally,

Clear communication: One must be able to articulate well and keep the conversations structured and focused.

Alisha: Those are some really important points. I believe diversity is an important aspect in corporate leadership as well. Let me ask you: How do you see diversity, collaboration, and innovation connect?

Uma: Yes, diversity is definitely an important aspect. Diverse teams produce better results, and it is important to get people together from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, and cultures to drive innovation. To do so, collaboration across a complex organisational structure is critical. One has to tap into 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 research by the Harvard Business School, teams having 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.

Alisha: Thank you so much, Uma, for your wonderful insights on leadership and collaboration.

Uma: Thank you, Alisha. It was a pleasure to be here.

Alisha: Dear listeners, if you enjoyed our podcast today, please don’t forget to share and like it on social media. Our social handles are mentioned in the podcast page. The podcast will be available on various platforms like Google Podcasts and Spotify, in addition to our website.

Also, if you have any queries, do reach out to us through the email address on the podcast description. Watch this space for more exciting podcasts coming up. Once again, thank you for tuning in, stay healthy and socially distanced. Have a nice day!

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