The New Rules of Collaboration

3485095631_2e36dbf903_mA good friend asked me yesterday what I thought about collaboration.  Having been an employee of non-profits for over a decade, I had always enjoyed the sound of "servant leadership" and "collaborative change".  The writings of everyone from Jesus to modern day thinkers like Stephen Covey seem to promote collaboration.  Think of the feeding of the five thousand or Covey's famous "think win-win" formula for negotiating life.

The catch though about collaboration is that it's only part of the leadership dynamic.

What do I mean?  Think of the pastor who decides to put an addition on to the existing church.  Sure, he got buy-in from some parishioners but at the end of the day, the addition doesn't get built without his say-so.  Or, think of the much-rumored new tablet computer from Apple.  This baby doesn't happen without the blessing of Steve Jobs.  One man making a decision.

So what are the new rules of collaboration?  Here are my three in no specific order.

  1. Leadership is about decisions.  A good leader hones his ability to make tough decisions, based on data, consultation and measurement of success.

  2. Collaboration is about buy-in on the front-end. Some call this politics but I think of it as collaborative wisdom.  If you know that your decision will ruffle some feathers, it's worthwhile to get the right folks on board with the course you intend to chart.

  3. Collaboration yields ownership on the back-end. If you've done things right, you'll need project managers to carry out your plan.  This is back-end follow through and it is the result of strong collaboration in the planning process.

  4. Collaboration is only of value within a context of role clarity. Some of my best employees are those who respect authority.  Their default mode is, "if the boss asks me to do something, it's a done deal".  If this exists, much collaboration is possible.  Without it, it may be a waste of time.

*photo by rama miguel
At Work, LeadershipMike StPierre