Collaborative intelligence—the collective determination to reach an identical objective by sharing knowledge and learning while building consensus—is becoming increasingly essential to organizational success. In my last post, I discussed why leaders need to understand and implement a collaborative model based on creating a culture of collaboration that becomes an integral part of their overall leadership strategy. I also shared two essential skills—moving away from top-down authority and building bridges of cooperation—that can help build a more collaborative team.
Here are five more strategies that leaders can use to maximize their collaborative intelligence quotient and increase competitive advantage across the organization:
- Share knowledge. Information and knowledge are the glue that forms the bond between leaders and teams. Equal access to these essential resources creates a shared sense of purpose, decreases competition, and holds great teams together. One hallmark of a traditional hierarchical leadership style required that senior leaders hold on to information without sharing it, which projected a perception of authority and control. As a more effective alternative, sharing information creates a foundation for collaborative leadership, building trust so that everyone feels a part of the team and on the same page. Trust is a key element of this leadership style, and requires setting aside vulnerability. Since trust is hard to build and easy to lose, leaders must focus on cultivating it not just through words, but through actions, evidence, and sharing information.
- Embrace conflict. Another cornerstone of rich collaboration is the ability to engage in healthy conflict. Conflict may initially feel uncomfortable, but when it is properly embraced and managed, it can bring out the creative thinking that’s necessary to address complex problems and facilitate better decision-making. Collaborative leaders must be able to encourage friendly or even contentious debate over task issues while promoting the expression of different perspectives concerned with how problems are defined, approached, and ultimately solved. This calls for observing and balancing emotional and judgmental conflict from the task at hand—knowing when a dispute between team members has reached a level of tension that’s no longer productive and inclusive, and then being able to redirect concerns away from the personal level back to the task issues.
- Learn to value and manage diversity. Today’s organizations contain rich diversity that includes but goes beyond gender—and those differences are essential assets for innovation. However, it takes a conscious effort for leaders to effectively optimize the differences inherent in their organizations. It’s a common belief that “people like people like themselves”—but this tendency no longer serves leaders or their companies. While it may feel natural initially to have a higher comfort level with people who share your own work style, beliefs, and experiences, this approach often results in missing the opportunity to optimize collaboration with a wider range of team members. Failure to seek diverse perspectives can unintentionally lead to excluding individuals or groups, which can hurt your company’s chance to achieve a competitive advantage. The final two strategies below address what needs to happen to avoid this problem.
- Move beyond biases. What gets in the way of rich collaboration and tapping on “best” ideas are hard-wired biases and assumptions on the part of the leadership team. Collaborative intelligence requires leaders to incorporate a diverse spectrum of thinking on their teams, while recognizing their own internal biases and assumptions and staying open to alternative viewpoints. Collaborative leaders must also ensure that they have a balance of diversity at the upper levels and in the boardroom to create the right environment and culture for drawing out the best thinking around the table.
- Master the strategic conversation. Collaborative intelligence calls for leaders to tap on important interpersonal and communication skills. These include being present both physically and emotionally, as well as practicing effective listening and conflict resolution. In many cases, maximizing collaborative intelligence within an organization requires skills in appreciative inquiry and strategic conversation, which call for focusing on the positive strengths and possibilities within an organization rather than zeroing in only on problems. A strategic conversation based on collaboration can be effective when you have multiple stakeholders with differing perspectives who are asked to work together to establish a collective vision.
Review the strategies above against your company’s actual practices to determine your organization’s collaborative intelligence factor. As a leader, think about how you can model a more collaborative style for others to follow. If demonstrated effectively, collaborative intelligence leads to better information, more effective solutions, and rich perspectives while empowering everyone in the organization to work as a connected and higher-performing community.
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Rebecca Shambaugh is author of the best-selling books “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor,” “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton,” and “Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.”