Roundtable Highlights: Collaborative Leadership Challenges and Opportunities

The following is a distillation of some challenges and insights discussed in detail at the first three roundtables. Note that for each roundtable, a comprehensive set of key learnings and takeaways are documented and shared with members through a proprietary white paper.

The importance of collaborative leadership, along with the supporting tools and systems, is growing but remains a relatively young effort.

The most cited reasons for its increasing need are globalization and working in highly “matrixed” organizations. Characteristic behaviors associated with collaborative leadership include co-creating a vision with peers, leading teams effectively, articulating purposes in ways that appeal to others’ values, and stimulating others’ creativity.

Companies are using a balance of both traditional and contemporary tools to support collaborative leadership.

Traditional tools include the physical layout of workspaces and reward systems, while contemporary tools include social networking communication tools, as well as cloud platforms for document sharing and knowledge management, to facilitate collaboration among people in geographically diverse locations. Companies are also using classes and workshops to emphasize the need to build external relationships. And physical workspace can be leveraged as a collaborative tool. The layout of a work environment and the location of an individual can be critical to establishing and building relationships. Open work areas, on-site cafes, microkitchens and meeting rooms that can be reconfigured for different uses all aid natural and productive interactions.

While enabling collaboration and open-source practices, leaders must still define the problem, provide direction, and align corporate culture.

Leaders must set goals and make available tools to achieve the goals. There should be clear standards, accountability, and concrete feedback. Organizations and their leaders must balance between achieving efficiency goals and stimulating creativity. Change should be championed by CEOs or other senior leaders; if viewed as an HR initiative, it will often stall along the way. Finally, effective tools for supporting and measuring collaborative leadership must flow from and mesh with the culture. Tools are enablers and can enhance performance but are not a means to an end by themselves.

Reward and performance systems don’t support collaborative leadership within matrix organizations.

It is difficult to design reward and incentive programs to encourage collaboration below the executive level. One reason is that more weight is still given to individual accomplishment and internal competition persists. Reward systems may prevent collaboration. For collaboration to occur between groups, divisions, and companies, economic interests must be aligned.

Better social networks can have a real impact on success.

Social network analysis can help assess collaborative efforts within and across units and can be used in performance evaluation. Through social networks analytics it is possible to identify individuals who are good at execution, individuals who are good at making decisions that embrace a variety of perspectives, and individuals who are good at both. At an organizational level, such information can be used to build effective teams. Despite the promise of social network analytics, there is a gap between the tools available for such analysis and companies adopting those tools.

Demographics impact collaboration and the movement toward open-source innovation.

It’s not just about economics but demographics as the new generation works differently. An emerging issue is that younger generations have a lower tolerance for authority. Moreover, they often display a desire to work collaboratively, whereas those who have developed in a very hierarchical environment find it difficult to change. In the near future, there will be the first generation of digital natives—those born into a world of instant communication, cloud computing, and open-source principles—who will be more open to new ways of organizing to promote collaboration.

Use of open-source principles in large, traditional companies has an opportunity to inspire collaboration and to be successful within pockets of the organization.

Leaders should determine whether selective groups or selective projects might benefit from such approaches. Culture, business sector, and employee demographics are also important factors to take into consideration. New practices include online forums and communities of practice, self-selected teams, problem broadcasting, and problem-solving competitions. Online forums and communities dominate the practices being used. While companies are satisfied with the acceptance and impact of these practices, there is significant room for expanded use and improvement.