Developing Collaborative Leadership

High-level collaboration is about both being trusting and trustworthy. This means specific development for collaboration can be an immensely personal exercise. We all have our own experiences of trusting others and our own inbuilt predisposition to trust. We also have our habits that make it easy or difficult for people to trust us.

The combination of leadership and collaboration adds a new dimension to the typical development path of identifying development needs. Do I choose to trust in general? Do I choose to trust these people? Do I choose to lead others in my organisation relying on this trust? What do I need to do to feel sufficiently safe?

Coaching provides the private environment to explore past experiences and to create options for new styles of leadership without creating the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing. Receiving meaningful feedback takes guts and careful facilitation. It can require untangling a quantity of politics but will help you understand the impact you actually have, which is not necessarily the one you want to have.

There’s no perfect relationship leader. Development for collaborative leadership should not aim to be about cloning. Each person should understand and leverage their individual strengths (covering any Achilles heels). Then it’s about defining the improvements we want to make and creating more opportunities to get exceptional results for all.

Everyone Can Lead Collaboration

When we are asked to evaluate collaboration between organisations we spend some time researching the actions of the key people.

We notice that some people make collaboration happen, sticking to the intent of the contract, being disciplined and by trusting and respecting the partner organisation no matter what else happens.

Some people help collaboration happen, by doing what they say they will, being cooperative and finding time to work together when required.
Some people let collaboration happen, opting in when absolutely essential to work together or when chased or pressurised into doing so.

A thankfully rare number of people stop collaboration happening by their personal actions, such as an inability to attend meetings, by increasing their demands or by undermining the trust between the people in each organization.
In our experience a person’s hierarchical position in the organization doesn’t reflect their contribution to collaborative behaviours. We’ve seen directors suddenly play hardball in the middle of a contract, driven by other unrelated and unexpected financial demands. This can ruin the trust between the organisations.

We’ve seen a junior operations team member suddenly invite both teams to the pub when times have been a bit fraught and everyone needed a laugh and a lift.

Look for the people who are leading collaboration in your key business relationships. These are the people who never lose sight of why you’re working together and what you each bring. The people who are willing to trust others and who are proactive and trustworthy themselves. When you find them thank them and do whatever it takes to get them to stay.

Jessica Long

Step up from Relationship Management – we need more Relationship Leadership

We’ve all done it. We’ve all banged on about Relationship Management and collaboration. Many organisations have appointed people to specific Relationship Management roles. Others have shared the responsibility between many. We’ve created stakeholder maps, engagement strategies and ‘man-marking’. We’ve created processes, standards and technology solutions.

As people fully commit to collaboration we are delighted they’re no longer questioning the benefit of deep and genuine collaboration between organisations and that the debate has moved on from “Do we need relationship management?” to “What’s the optimum way to manage relationships?” But before we accidentally manage our key relationships to death, we now want to ask: “Is it time to move on and start thinking about relationship leadership?”

Management is all about doing things right but if it is over-used it can be energy-sapping and imply a lack of trust. “At times, we are more concerned with metrics than real achievement… we spend a lot of time ‘weighing the pig’ rather than feeding it!’”

When you are leading it’s no longer about you and your individual actions.  It’s about the actions you inspire in others. Ask yourself “Who do I want to be involved and what do I need from them? What do they need from me?” Leadership sets the vision, creates the culture and inspires others to use their energy and intelligence to do the right things for the relationship. For leadership to be most effective, a continuous cycle of Demonstrate – Inspire – Empower – Recognise, is incredibly important.

In order to create a collaborative culture you need to demonstrate collaboration yourself.  People quickly see through those people espousing collaboration then aggressively playing win-lose. Genuine collaborators know and say what they hope for and need, while listening intently to the needs and hopes of the other organisations. They then work tirelessly and visibly for the win-win.

We were called in recently to support a contract which was at the difficult stage of “too good to leave but too disappointing to stay”. Business-as-usual was fine but innovation and synergies were not coming through at the rate either organisation wanted.  During the research stage we found comments such as:

There’s not much information about where they are heading and what else they can do.” and “We don’t get a sense of what success looks like for them. It feels guarded about what their objectives of the relationship are.”

When you lead, you inspire others about the future you want to create. When supporting new partnerships try starting with the key leaders from each organisation talking about their hopes for the relationship, how they’ll know when it’s successful and why they’ve chosen to work together.  Then encourage everyone to share their hopes and ambitions for the contract.

The most inspiring messages are rarely about metrics. They are often about customer experience and excitement, about becoming unique or world-class, about meaningful service and mutual success. The most successful relationships keep these key messages alive throughout the lifespan of the contract.

You’re choosing to collaborate for a reason, and this reason will help to define your choice.

It strikes me, as our student children set off on their annual migratory travels, that choosing another organisation to work with is a bit the same as choosing a travelling companion.  It’s not a forever relationship – just one that makes sense for right now and will dramatically impact the enjoyment and success of this trip.

They have to decide how scary they want the trip to be.  Do they want a friend who will be able to show them the way because the friend has travelled that way before?  Certainly if they want to climb Kilimanjaro they will need an experienced guide who knows both how to stay safe and the routes up the mountain.  If they travel in more conventional lands they may want someone inexperienced who they like more, knowing they’ll be able to cope with most of the challenges they will face using goodwill and their shared sense of exploration.

It’s the same for choosing an organisation to partner with.  You’re choosing to collaborate for a reason, and this reason will help to define your choice.  Your processes for selection rightly try to force objectivity, particularly those governed by legal and other procurement frameworks but sometimes we chose the wrong partner because we don’t know how to measure for culture and appetite for risk.  We helped two partner organisations review the success of a contract recently and unearthed very different attitudes to risk.  The objectives had been reached – the vendor organisation felt like heroes “We did it – we thought we wouldn’t but we did- hurrah!”  The client organisation said “Never again.  We thought we were going to crash and burn.  We will never put our core business at that much risk again.”

Think carefully about the questions you ask of potential partners.  Are you on compatible travels and how scared and excited do you want to be?