Collaborative Leadership Styles and Approaches

In the last decade, and especially since the pandemic, more employees have preferred working in collaborative environments. They want more input and less hierarchy. A Deloitte study shows that over 50% of employees value C-suite collaboration highly.

Employees’ preference for collaboration can also benefit businesses. The same study found that organizations with high levels of collaboration are expected to grow by 10% or more.

But how can you become a more collaborative leader and inspire your team to collaborate more? In this post, we explain what collaborative leadership looks like, how to encourage a collaborative way of working among your employees, and the benefits it can bring to your company.

What is Collaborative Leadership?

Collaborative leadership involves working closely with all team members, no matter their title or role. Managers who practice this style value everyone’s input and make decisions together. They encourage team members to share information openly, promoting transparency and knowledge sharing. This approach highlights cooperation, open communication, and collective problem-solving.

Trends Impacting Collaborative Leadership

Trends Impacting Collaborative Leadership

Workplaces are increasingly adopting the collaborative leadership model. This change is driven by digital collaboration tools, viewing employees as assets across multiple areas, and using big data in decision-making. These factors have led to more collaborative teams in many industries. Below, we explain how each aspect has contributed to this rise in cross-functional teamwork.

  • Access to New Technologies 

Digital collaboration tools have removed many barriers among employees, enabling closer teamwork. Video conferencing, digital project management tools, and instant messaging allow employees in different departments and locations to engage regularly.

Products like Google’s G-Suite allow files to be created, edited, and shared among teams, facilitating the exchange of ideas and opinions. These tools have become important as remote working and the gig economy grow.

  • A New Appreciation for Individual Strengths 

Many organizations now see that a unified team of talented individuals has a stronger impact on a company’s success than a single leader could. Collaborative leaders use skills like strategic thinking, empathy, communication, coding, project management, and analytics. They apply these skills across departments to build dynamic, agile teams. This approach helps create top-performing organizations.

  • An Increase in Data-Based Decision-Making 

AI and machine learning software help collect and organize business data for leadership teams. This data helps executives make informed decisions. Without collaboration, leadership teams might make choices that don’t align with their mission or consider every department’s needs.

The Importance of Collaborative Leadership

Collaborative leadership offers many benefits for organizations and teams. It empowers employees and promotes strong working relationships. Teams become more innovative and adaptable. Problems are solved quicker because everyone works together.

Working collaboratively increases team morale. It creates a sense of belonging and value, and employees feel their ideas and opinions matter. This leads to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

Collaboration also improves customer satisfaction. When teams communicate effectively, they provide better service. Customers notice and appreciate this level of care.

Effective collaborative leaders listen to their teams, encourage open discussion, and consider different viewpoints. This builds trust and respect throughout the organization.

What does Collaborative Leadership Look Like?

What does Collaborative Leadership Look Like?

Implementing collaborative leadership can be challenging, especially for leaders accustomed to traditional structures. It requires openness to new ideas and outside opinions. Here’s what it looks like in practice.

1. Open organizations

Leaders who promote openness create a transparent and inclusive workplace. This fosters a shared sense of purpose and a cohesive organizational culture.

To achieve this, provide clear communication channels where people can share information freely. This includes updates on projects, challenges, brainstorming, and feedback.

Open organizations often use collaboration software to keep everyone connected. Leaders should actively use these channels, setting an example for their teams.

2. Empowered people

A self-management structure aims to empower individual voices and reduce the bureaucracy found in traditional organizations. This approach is important for any collaborative environment.

Empowering people involves understanding their strengths and how they contribute to the bigger picture. It means knowing their skills, how they can help on projects, and trusting them to work with minimal guidance.

Teams with diverse perspectives and skills can handle large challenges and important projects. As a leader, you should step back and allow them to reach their full potential.

3. Collaboration skills

In collaborative work environments, leaders participate more and direct less. They help assemble project teams but don’t necessarily own projects. Their role is to share their perspective, contribute to the workload, and encourage company-wide collaboration.

The main goal of collaborative leaders is to improve team collaboration. Collaboration is a process that requires skill development over time, and leaders help their teams build these skills.

In practice, this means creating space for all types of communication and communicators. It involves helping people organize better, become effective debaters, and mediate discussions with different viewpoints. Leaders also need to anticipate potential breakdowns in collaboration and take steps to prevent them.

The Benefits of Collaborative Leadership

There are too many to list here, but a few advantages to this kind of organizational structure and management practice are as follows:

  • A shared sense of your organization’s purpose. Everyone understands the goals and works together towards them.
  • Closer teams who understand how their work intersects with and influences other teams across the organization. This leads to better collaboration and a unified effort.
  • A more interconnected, up-to-date, and engaged workforce. Teams stay informed and are more motivated to contribute.
  • An org-wide sense that leaders trust their people to do great work. Employees feel valued and confident in their roles.
  • Increased employee loyalty. People are more likely to stay when they feel appreciated and part of a meaningful mission.
  • Development of future collaborative leaders. Team members grow into leaders who can work well with others and drive success.

Strategies for Collaborative Leadership

Strategies for Collaborative Leadership

As a leader, you can shape how we collaborate in our organization. Here are some strategies to help you set the right tone for teamwork in your area. These best practices will improve the success of your collaborative efforts.

1. Focus on authentic leadership

Collaborative leaders communicate openly and honestly, avoiding passive aggressiveness. They keep things professional when collaborations don’t go as planned. They look for solutions that benefit the organization, even if it means short-term challenges for their own team. Over time, they become known as reliable partners others want to work with.

2. Be transparent with your decision-making

Collaborative leaders often involve others in their decision-making process. We’ve all felt frustrated by decisions made above us that we don’t understand. When leaders explain their thinking before or after making important decisions, it builds trust within and between teams.

3. View resources as instruments of action

Leaders can sometimes become territorial with resources. Collaborative leaders see talents, time, money, and tools as means to take action, not as possessions. When leaders adopt this mindset, it creates opportunities for innovative partnerships.

4. Set the expectation for your people

A leader can encourage collaboration by setting clear expectations for teamwork. Establish shared goals, recognize those who actively collaborate, and openly discuss the value of working together. These steps help build a cooperative culture within the organization.


How to become a collaborative leader?

Becoming a collaborative leader starts with actively listening to your team. Encourage open communication and invite input from everyone. Make decisions transparently, explaining your thought process. Share resources and support others’ initiatives. Recognize and celebrate teamwork. Provide opportunities for team members to develop their collaboration skills. Finally, always lead by example, demonstrating the behaviors you expect from your team.

What are the positives of collaborative leadership?

Collaborative leadership allows people to see different perspectives. It promotes open communication and teamwork across teams and organizations. This approach encourages innovation, creativity, and engagement and builds trust.

When should collaborative leadership be used?

Collaborative leadership is most useful in complex projects that need input from many areas. It’s helpful when solving problems that require different skills and ideas. This style works well for tasks that involve teamwork and communication. It helps in creating a unified vision and shared goals. Collaborative leadership is also good for fostering innovation and creativity among team members.