The collaborative advantage: the rewards of a collaborative culture are significant, but so is the effort to get there.

Author:Beier, Yosh
Position:The 21st century leader: new skills - Column

Over the past few decades, the nature of work--what we do, how we do it and with whom--has transformed radically, triggered by technological and business model innovation, globalization, and changing expectations among the next generation of employees.

Just responding to these changes alone significantly taxes organizational leaders. But at the heart of these challenges is how effectively leaders can address the "human side" of work, which--beyond some lip service--is rarely properly addressed.

In a dramatically complex world where no one person has all the answers, leaders need enhanced collaborative skills on top of technical expertise. Collaborative capacity--the ability to collaborate and co-create--has become the new competitive frontier for organizations. Work culture has changed, and with it the role of a typical leader. Driving innovation without disrupting daily operations already fully consumes leaders' attention. They too often have little attention left to absorb and decipher trends and complex data. Professional communicators find themselves increasingly in the role of consultants to executives. In that role, they need to remind and challenge leaders to establish organizational cultures that foster collaborative capacity and turn it into competitive advantage.

What collaborative leaders get

Companies that are able to organize collaborative practices and distributed decision making outperform their peers. Consider Pixar, whose incredible track record speaks for itself. Asked about the company's "secret sauce," Ed Catmull, Ph.D., the president of the animation film studio, told the Harvard Business Review that "everyone must have the freedom to communicate with everyone" and "it must be safe for everyone to offer ideas"--key elements to Pixar's approach to fostering collaborative creativity.

But such a culture cannot be mandated; it requires authentic role modeling from leaders--as well as years of committed culture change efforts. In his landmark article "Leadership That Gets Results" in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman posited six leadership styles and their impact on outcome. Among those six styles--command and control, pace-setting, visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic--only two were shown to have a negative impact on work atmosphere: command and control, and pace-setting. Those two styles also happen to be most commonly experienced in hierarchical and power-focused organizations.


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