Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

Communicating with Clarity (Leadership Practice 7)

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The third grouping of servant leadership practices in the model emphasizes clear communication and the supporting of individuals toward outcomes for which they are accountable. This third cluster of servant leadership practices is focused on helping followers navigate toward effectiveness and include the following: (1) communicating with clarity, (2) supporting and resourcing, and (3) providing accountability. This week we take on Leadership Practice 7 — Communicating with Clarity

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of clear communication in the practice of leadership. Although all effective communicators are not necessarily leaders, all effective leaders must be effective communicators.

Effective Leadership Requires Effective Communication

In previous posts, I highlighted 5 Types of Leadership Communication and 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. As noted in these posts, leaders must attend to factors such as verbal and nonverbal modes of communication as well as diverse levels of communication from intrapersonal to organizational.

Sometimes leaders speak through their words. Sometimes leaders speak with their actions (or inaction). The question is whether or not the leader is being intentional in these various types and levels of their communication. Being intentional with effective communication practice will help leaders effectively guide their followers and teams.

Communication Basics for Leaders

As we consider how to help followers navigate toward effectiveness, the seventh effective servant leadership practice in this model is Communicating with Clarity. This leadership practice is about effectively communicating plans and goals for the organization, and research participants note several critical features of effective communication in the leadership role.

Key communication features noted by research participants included the following:

  • Honesty
  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Clarity
  • Listening
  • Timeliness
  • Confidence without arrogance
  • Conciseness
  • Regularity and appropriately repetitious
  • Congruence of verbal and nonverbal messages
  • Use of a diverse set of communication media
  • Use of word pictures
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
  • Avoiding emotionally laden and volatile communication overtones

Leaders: Communicate Often — Communicate Well

Leaders who learn to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts and through a variety of communication pathways are helping followers and their organizations navigate toward effectiveness. How are you doing on this front as a leader? What step can you take in the coming workweek to be more proactive in your communication approach with followers and teams?

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Understanding Relational Skills (Leadership Practice 6)

by Chuck Patch, Flickr

by Chuck Patch, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. This week we take on Leadership Practice 6 — Understanding Relational Skills.

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

This second cluster, which is focused on understanding the priority of people, ends with the servant leadership practice of Understanding Relational Skills. Knowing how to get along with people is basic to quality relationships, and it is the basis of quality leadership practice as well. Although this may seem simplistic, understanding relational skills is key for leading well in the team context.

Relational Skills and Emotional Intelligence

In recent decades, leadership researchers have identified the importance of emotional intelligence for leadership practice. At the core of emotional intelligence are skills that support intrapersonal and interpersonal engagement. In his discussion of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman emphasized factors such as empathy and social skills, premised on self-awareness. These factors provide a basis for effective relational skills. Self-awareness leading to an awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others provides a platform on which effective leaders may appropriately humanize the leader-follower relational engagement.

Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Authentic Listening

The themes of self-awareness, empathy, and authentic listening were also highlighted by the research participants in my study on the topic, noting these as important characteristics of effective relational skills. One participant noted that empathetic communication, personal connection, selective vulnerability, and attention to what motivates followers are all critical relational skills. Other participants emphasized items such as:

  • The importance of authentic listening,
  • A commitment to fairness and equality,
  • The ability to tolerate and accept appropriate differences,
  • The importance of knowing oneself well in order to relate authentically with others,
  • The embodiment of confidence blended with the ability to see future possibilities and communicate the most appropriate path to get there
  • Creating a sense of safety and support for followers,
  • Demonstrating care and kindness,
  • Reinforcing a commitment to the working relationship, and
  • Maintaining an open and approachable posture toward followers.

All of these themes comprise key relational skills that help foster positive leader-follower relationships.

Although leaders at times may like to work in the background simply dealing with systems and structures, engaging organizational members, team members, and direct reports with relational intelligence is vital. How are you nurturing your relational skills? How are you engaging followers with wisdom and a spirit of understanding?

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Creating a Place for Individuality (Leadership Practice 5)

Individuality !, Craig Sunter - Thanx 2 Mil..., Flickr

Individuality !, Craig Sunter – Thanx 2 Mil…, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. Last week, we highlighted Valuing and Appreciating People. This week we take on Leadership Practice 5—Creating a Place for Individuality.

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

There is a tendency in some organizational circles to simple view people as cogs in a larger organizational system. But who likes it, and flourishes, when they are viewed in such a mechanistic and replaceable fashion?

Beyond the Cog

In contrast to this approach, servant leaders help to Create a Place for Individuality in their work with their teams. Outcomes matter in organizations. So does holding followers accountable to these outcomes—a point emphasized in this larger research study. But it is also vital to recognize that outcomes are not necessarily achieved in a uniform manner.

Beyond Uniformity

In contrast to approaches that emphasize follower uniformity, this leadership practice emphasizes allowing for individuality of style and expression in followers as well as accepting followers for who they are as individuals. In contrast to the overly mechanized systems encouraged in some twentieth century managerial models, this study challenges twenty-first century leaders to remember the individual and to create space for individuality in work performance.

Beyond Micromanaging

Research participants note the importance of simple expressions of individuality. Of the expressions noted were dimensions of flexibility such as work style, clothing, and office hours. Participants also noted that flexibility for follower expressions of individuality are best supported through the avoidance of micromanaging leadership behaviors.

Moving Toward Common Culture over Uniformity

One participant noted, “Set strategic goals, but allow individuals to engage in creative processes to get there.” On the theme of how follower individuality coincides with organizational unity, participants noted that commonality at the level of mission, vision, goals, and values provides “the glue that holds the organization together,” and that “under this umbrella there is ample room for individuality.”

Arguing that great leaders find ways to meld the needs of individuals with the needs of an organization, one participant argues that this “requires the leader to take an active interest in the capacity of those under their leadership.” They continue noting the importance of assigning responsibility and delegating authority “based on the giftedness of the follower in alignment with the project or task to be completed.”

Moving Toward Individuality and Individualized Consideration

All of this requires an individualized consideration similar to what Bass and Avolio put forward in transformational leadership theory. This calls leaders to a higher level of investment in creating space for individuals to work uniquely toward common goals. While it is sometimes easier to mandate uniformity and conformance, taking the extra time and effort to create space for individuality is a valuable leadership practice that is significantly related to effectiveness in this study.

While a focus on outcomes is important, how are you creating a place for individuality in your work with followers? Think through a step or two you can take in appreciating and providing space for the individuality of your team members.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Valuing and Appreciating People (Leadership Practice 4)

Value, GotCredit, Flickr

Value, GotCredit, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works!

The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context around three broad areas: Beginning with Authentic Leaders, Understanding the Priority of People, and Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Understanding the Priority of People

I’ve walked through the first grouping in previous posts. The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of Understanding the Priority of People. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. This week we take on Leadership Practice 4— Valuing and Appreciating.

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Understanding the priority of people begins with a basic commitment to Valuing and Appreciating people. While this includes the communication of appreciation for follower contribution as a primary focus, it also emphasizes the value and trust of people at a more basic level.

Jim Laub notes the following about valuing people and organizational health:

Healthy organizations have a different view of people. People are to be valued and developed, not used.”

This gets at a core characteristic of servant leadership. As a leader, do you view the people primarily as resources to be used and deployed, or do you view people as intrinsically valuable?

The Innate Value of People

Laub continues:

“Leaders accept the fact that people have present value not just future potential. People seem to have an innate ability to know whether or not they are being valued…whether or not they are trusted. Effective leaders accept a person’s value up front. They give them the gift of trust without requiring that they earn it first. As leaders work with people in organizations they will serve them by displaying the qualities of Valuing People.”

Many leaders value their followers after the followers have demonstrated their value to the organization. Consistent with Laub’s comments, servant leaders take valuing people to another level. Servant leaders value people not only for what they contribute, but rather value them primary for who they are as people.

Valuing Leads to Appreciating

Several research participants highlight similar observations, noting the importance of trust in valuing and appreciating followers when they are “given responsibility and released to accomplish the task without second guesses,” and when “verbally appreciate[ing] them as people first, then for their contribution to the team.” Another participant noted that a follower feels valued and appreciated “when a leader authentically and legitimately applauds the performance of a follower and acknowledges their unique contributions with concrete examples.” Such expressions must be connected with reality, though, and in the words of this participant must be “genuine, deserved, and observable” if such expressions are to be effective.

How Do You View Your People?

So how are you doing on this front? Are you valuing people for who they are, or merely for what they contribute to the organization? Is this valuing of people translating into expressions of appreciation? Teams flourish as members are valued and appreciated in the journey toward effectiveness.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Fostering Collaboration (Leadership Practice 3)

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The past two weeks I highlighted the first two practices—Modeling what Matters and Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. This week, we turn to the third practice—Fostering Collaboration.

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Dwight D. Eisenhower is attributed with saying “It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you.” Such logic is at the heart of collaboration, and effective leaders prioritize fostering collaboration in their teams and organizations. In contrast to overly competitive leadership agendas, this leadership behavior—Fostering Collaboration—highlights the importance of leaders encouraging followers to work together over competing against one another in the organizational environment.

Collaboration and Complexity

Noting the importance of fostering collaboration, one research participant argues that, “solutions to complex problems today often require a collaborative engagement with others, the collective of which will generate the best solution.” Another participant acknowledges that no one person can meet the demands placed on leadership, and thus “collaboration allows a leader to expand the leadership resources brought into the leadership process.”

The Priority of Authentic Collaboration

Providing a key argument for viewing this practice as part of beginning with authentic leaders, one participant in my study noted the danger of collaborative gestures coming across as token invitations for follower participation. When a leader “just wants to appear like he/she is collaborating, but doesn’t really care about input from others,” such inauthentic collaborative gestures become toxic for leader-follower relationships and the broader organizational culture. However, when genuine respect for followers is blended with a listening posture, a suspension of leader predispositions, and a willingness to give credit to others and embrace solutions that come from others, there is great power in leaders working with followers on genuinely collaborative agendas.

Going Far Together

There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Those who want to go far in leadership enterprises recognize the priority of a collaborative environment.

How are you doing at fostering collaboration in your sphere of influence? Do you recognize the priority of working together in order to go far? Take the next step in fostering collaboration in your work as a leader!

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”