Discover key differences between collaborative leadership & other styles. Develop your collaborative leadership style for more productive teams.
Table of Contents
Imagine stepping into a vibrant garden, bursting colorful flowers and lush greenery.
A place where every living thing thrives and depends on each other, sharing resources and benefiting from an interconnected ecosystem. As your garden expands, however, the delicate balance becomes more challenging to maintain: If you’re not careful, some plants can run riot while others wilt.
The same can happen in business. As your company grows and your teams multiply, cultivating effective collaboration and leadership takes regular work.
Collaborative teams perform better, but it can be tricky for people to work together naturally unless they know what it looks like, which means you have to show them how.
A collaborative leadership style focuses on teamwork, cooperation, and joint decision-making. Unlike top-down leadership styles, collaborative leadership creates an inclusive environment where every team member's input and ideas are valued.
Developing a collaborative leadership style allows you to sow the seeds of better teamwork, creating a space for spontaneous collaborations and interactions to happen.
To inspire effective teamwork in your workplace, first, you need to understand the differences between a collaborative leadership style and others—and how collaborative leadership contributes to a positive company culture.
In this article, you’ll learn why collaborative leadership is beneficial for you, your teams, and your company. You’ll also get actionable ways to develop a unique collaborative leadership style that motivates your teams.
Want to inspire more satisfying teamwork?
Switchboard’s digital workspace creates a collaborative team experience where you can get more done together—and apart.
What is collaborative leadership?
Collaborative leadership is an approach to leadership that focuses on cooperation, inclusive decision-making, and teamwork. It actively involves team members, values their contributions, and fosters open communication and trust.
Collaborative leaders understand the need to combine their team members’ diverse skills and perspectives to achieve shared objectives. They foster a culture of exchanging ideas and a sense of collective ownership and shared responsibility among team members.
Unlike traditional leadership approaches, collaborative leadership recognizes that collective effort and shared accountability lead to increased innovation, higher team morale, and overall success.
It’s not enough to spot opportunities for teamwork and attract the best talent, however. You also have to set the tone by demonstrating collaborative leadership for your teams.
For example, let's consider a project manager who implements a collaborative leadership style. They involve team members in the decision-making process and assign roles based on individual strengths. By leveraging their team members’ combined expertise and providing growth opportunities, the project manager cultivates a collaborative environment where team members feel valued and empowered. Real-life examples like this approach can result in increased productivity, higher morale, and successful project outcomes.
Now, let’s take a look at how collaborative leadership is different from other leadership styles.
Other leadership styles include:
- Authoritarian leadership: The leader independently makes decisions and imposes them on the team. It involves top-down control and can be less motivating than collaborative leadership.
- Transformational leadership: Leaders inspire and motivate by setting a compelling vision and encouraging personal growth. While transformational leadership creates a positive work environment, it focuses on the leader's influence rather than team cooperation.
- Servant leadership: Leaders prioritize individual needs by serving and supporting team members. It shares a people-centered approach with collaborative leadership but differs in its focus on individuals instead of working together as a team.
- Laissez-faire leadership: Leaders provide minimal guidance or direction in a hands-off approach. This style lacks active involvement on the part of the leader, as well as structure, coordination, and accountability—which can hinder joint working.
Now you know what other leadership styles look like, let’s take a look at how collaborative leadership benefits your teams and business.
How collaborative leadership benefits your teams and company
While traditional leadership styles have their drawbacks, collaborative leadership offers advantages like greater inclusivity, creativity and innovation, and a positive company culture.
Let’s take a look at some of those differences in more detail, and how other styles contrast with collaborative leadership.
- Authoritarian leadership can decrease employee motivation and job satisfaction. The hierarchical structure creates distance and, potentially, mistrust between superiors and subordinates that can affect employee performance.
By contrast, collaborative leadership fosters a positive work environment as employees are involved in decision-making processes. This cooperative approach can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction as team members feel recognized and valued for their contributions.
- Transformational leadership is inspiring but has the potential to foster over-dependence on the leader and hinder teams from working together. Team members may rely too heavily on the leader for guidance, decision-making, and problem-solving, which can limit their own development and ability to work independently and own their work.
Collaborative leadership, on the other hand, engages employees so that they are more likely to work together to achieve company-wide goals. When team members feel safe to express their thoughts, it can also spark creative thinking and innovation. Collaborative leaders create a culture that values new ideas, experimentation, and learning from failure, which fuels innovation within businesses.
- Servant leadership, which prioritizes individual needs, may lack the necessary emphasis on teamwork for effective collaboration. Not only that but servant leadership is associated with knowledge hoarding, which is when people purposely don’t share critical knowledge with others. This leadership style can, therefore, discourage team members from sharing their expertise, knowledge, or information with others, ultimately reducing teamwork.
By contrast, collaborative leadership actively promotes and values joint working. This approach ensures that team members have the opportunity to contribute their ideas, knowledge, and skills. This, combined with collaboration training, creates a culture of teamwork and knowledge sharing that benefits everyone.
- Laissez-faire leadership involves a hands-off approach that can lead to a lack of direction and guidance. This, plus the lack of accountability and coordination, can hinder teamwork. This is because this leadership style emphasizes individual needs and a hands-off approach over the interests of the group.
By contrast, collaborative leaders actively engage with their team members, providing clear goals, support, and a framework for collaboration. By fostering a culture of active participation and involvement, collaborative leadership addresses the shortcomings of laissez-faire leadership and promotes a more productive and cohesive work environment.
Alex Melone, Co-founder and CPO, and Andrei Marin, COO of Code Crew, explain some of the reasons why collaboration is important in business, saying, “Collaboration is what makes us tick. For marketing agencies like CodeCrew, we wouldn’t exist without collaboration, plain and simple. So much of our business is built on trust, not just between our team and our clients, but within our company itself.”
Next, we’ll move on to show you how to develop your collaborative leadership style.
7 ways to develop a collaborative leadership style to inspire your teams
In this section, we’ll explore seven practical ways you can cultivate a collaborative leadership style that will motivate and engage your teams.
1. Treat team members as individuals
Harvard Business Review defines collaboration as: “The capacity to engage people and groups outside one’s formal control and inspire them to work toward common goals—despite differences in convictions, cultural values, and operating norms.”
Each team member brings their own set of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Recognizing and appreciating their individual strengths is key to creating a collaborative environment.
Take the time to understand each individual’s capabilities and aspirations. This lets you give them tasks and projects that align with their skills and provide opportunities for growth. This approach not only improves their job satisfaction but also promotes a sense of ownership and investment in the team's success.
Actively engage team members in decision-making and provide opportunities for them to contribute their ideas and opinions. This helps you tap into their expertise and makes them feel valued and empowered. For example, you might hold regular one-on-one meetings with individual team members to discuss their goals, strengths, and areas of interest.
If you’re using Switchboard as your digital workspace, you can create dedicated, persistent rooms for informal catch-ups or regular reviews—and save all your notes and materials in there.
By adopting an inclusive approach that makes the most of each individual’s talents, you cultivate a sense of ownership among team members. This leads to higher levels of engagement and teamwork, as well as a shared commitment to working together towards common goals.
Another key aspect of developing a collaborative leadership style is to seek out diverse opinions and ideas, which we’ll explore next.
2. Seek out diverse opinions and ideas
A collaborative leader thrives on working with diverse individuals, fostering brainstorming sessions, and engaging in collaborative projects. This type of leader prioritizes teamwork and encourages employees to freely express their concerns and ideas.
Recognize the value that different perspectives bring, as these can drive innovation and uncover more effective solutions. Create an environment with psychological safety where team members feel encouraged to freely voice their concerns, ideas, and suggestions.
Alex illustrates this, saying, "Just this morning, one of our newer team members came to me with an idea: What if we completely revamp a longstanding process that hasn’t been questioned for months, if not years, since it’s always done the job? Her idea led to account-wide collaboration, which led to us updating one of our central documents in a way that allowed us to be even more flexible on client accounts that don’t fit into our usual mold.”
To build effective strategies and solve problems, actively seek diverse opinions and ideas among team members. To achieve this, you could set up a dedicated Switchboard room for brainstorming, including across different teams. Consider using the timer feature to give everyone a chance to have their say without eating into other’s slots. This helps get everyone actively participating instead of just listening. You can also use polls and surveys to allow people to contribute and vote on ideas.
Embracing diverse opinions and ideas enables your business to approach challenges from multiple angles. By valuing and incorporating varied perspectives, you tap into the collective intelligence of your team, resulting in greater success.
Next, let's explore how you can invest in workplace relationships to further enhance successful partnerships.
3. Invest in employee relationships
A collaborative leader understands the significance of fostering strong interpersonal connections and trust within their teams.
Make a deliberate effort to build meaningful relationships with your colleagues, nurturing a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect. By investing in these relationships, you establish a foundation of trust and open communication.
Developing trust enables team members to feel comfortable taking risks, sharing their opinions, and collaborating more effectively. One way to allow this is to set up a suggestion box system. Team members can anonymously submit their ideas, suggestions, or concerns, which you can then review and discuss during team meetings. By giving credit to contributors and actively incorporating valuable ideas into projects and processes, you promote a culture of cooperation and inclusivity.
Investing in colleague relationships not only strengthens teamwork but also enhances overall productivity rates and increases employee satisfaction.
“Good collaboration is easy to spot: There are nothing but benefits, such as better processes, quicker turnaround times, stronger connections between team members, and so much more. The benefits of effective collaboration come in many forms, with the end result always being positive: A stronger business, a happier team, and a more established company culture.” — Alex Melone, Co-founder and CPO, and Andrei Marin, COO of Code Crew
Pro tip: Setting up a dedicated room in Switchboard is ideal for team building activities or games. Use the Icebreakers feature to generate random questions for your team to answer in a fun and spontaneous way.
Next, we’ll look at how to encourage the quiet voices at the back.
4. Empower your team’s voices
Being a collaborative leader promotes cooperation not only within individual teams but also between different groups or departments. This helps to break down silos and promote cross-functional cooperation.
Empower your employees to speak up to strengthen cooperation between individuals and groups. You can do this by encouraging open communication channels, providing platforms for idea-sharing, and actively soliciting input from team members. One idea is to use Switchboard sticky notes for people to add their ideas and work together during meetings or sessions.
By implementing initiatives that encourage open communication and idea-sharing, you empower your teams to speak up and strengthen cooperation across your business. And an environment of open communication and idea-sharing fuels innovation and enables continuous improvement.
This positive feedback loop promotes open communication and trust, allowing for collective growth and development.
“Listen first. Present everything as an opportunity and then ask a question (even if you think you know the answer or solution) and wait. Allow people time to think and process, then give them room to share. Silence is extremely powerful.”
— Ashley Russo, Founder and President, ASR Media Productions
Effective communication not only weeds out silos but also boosts teamwork. In the next section, we'll explore the role of feedback in fostering teamwork and continuous improvement.
5. Communicate expectations
It’s crucial to communicate expectations to ensure alignment and understanding within your teams.
Provide clear guidance on goals, objectives, and performance expectations to establish a foundation for working together with a shared understanding. When communicating expectations, be specific, transparent, and timely.
Clearly communicate desired outcomes, timelines, and any relevant guidelines or standards. Engage in open dialogue to ensure that your team members know exactly what’s expected of them and how their contributions contribute to the overall success of the team and your organization.
Working together successfully means being open to receiving feedback and ideas from team members and fellow managers. By actively listening and being receptive to input, you foster an environment of trust and mutual respect. Effective communication of expectations, coupled with an open and collaborative approach, establishes a strong base for productive teamwork and enables individuals with unique skill sets to perform at their best.
As well as drawing out these unique skills, it’s important to give open access to the information people need to do their jobs. Here’s why.
6. Encourage access to information
A collaborative leader actively promotes an environment where team members have access to the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
You can achieve this by implementing open communication channels, providing resources and team collaboration tools for information sharing, and fostering a culture of knowledge exchange. For example, you could run your all-hands meeting in Switchboard and share your monthly figures or next quarter’s plan by pulling them up on-screen in a multiplayer browser. Give people a chance to ask questions and engage in discussions. This helps align everyone with business goals and ensures they’re well-informed and know what to expect.
By encouraging access to information, you empower team members to make informed decisions, contribute meaningfully to discussions, and understand the broader context of their work. This access to information also helps build trust and team members feel included and valued when they have access to relevant data and insights.
Encouraging access to information extends beyond the team. It also includes facilitating communications across different departments or stakeholders. Set up a dedicated, persistent Switchboard room for different teams to allow everybody to have a regular catchup and share news.
Breaking down information barriers and promoting cross-functional information sharing enables your teams to work together more effectively. Use this collective knowledge to make informed decisions that benefit the entire organization.
Our last point refers to adaptability, which is perhaps the strongest leadership quality.
7. Encourage adaptability
By staying informed about changes in business practices and workplace dynamics, collaborative leaders proactively adapt their approach to collaboration.
As a collaborative leader, you should also foster adaptability within your team. Promote a growth mindset and an openness to change; encourage team members to embrace new ideas, experiment with different approaches and be flexible in their thinking; and emphasize the importance of continuous learning and improvement.
Create a culture that values adaptability by recognizing and celebrating innovative solutions, agility, and the ability to navigate uncertainty. Encourage risk-taking within a supportive environment, where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Do this by using your internal comms tools, like Slack, to recognize other teammates and their work.
You should also provide opportunities for professional development and upskilling to enhance the adaptability of your team members. Offer training programs, workshops, or mentorship opportunities that garner new skills and encourage a proactive attitude toward change.
Lead by example and demonstrate your own adaptability. Show your team members how to navigate challenges, adjust strategies, and remain resilient in the face of adversity. Be open to feedback, adjust your approach based on new information, and demonstrate a willingness to change course when necessary.
Collaboration and leadership: A catalyst for positive change
Collaboration is associated with better team and company performance, but a culture of collaboration doesn't happen by itself. As a leader, you play a pivotal role in modeling this and inspiring your teams to work better together.
Understanding the differences between a collaborative leadership style and other approaches is the first step. This lets you develop a collaborative leadership style that nurtures a positive company culture based on teamwork.
Next, create an environment where clear communication and empathy thrive and team members feel included and safe to contribute ideas. Collaborative leaders are like skilled gardeners who nurture each team member's strengths while keeping an eye on the whole. When you create an environment where collaboration flourishes, it results in more productive, innovative teamwork.
To model working together, live the values and model the behaviors you want to see in your teams. When you invest in building trusted relationships, you empower employees to speak up. Seeking out diverse opinions and ideas strengthens cooperation between individuals and groups.
By following these actionable steps, you can develop a unique collaborative leadership style that inspires your teams, cultivates innovation, and drives collective success.
Along the way, a collaborative digital workspace like Switchboard will provide valuable support by providing a source of truth and giving your teams a place to find each other and get work done. Move projects forward together in real time or async, communicate in context, and keep everything you need in the same, permanent room.
Want to inspire more satisfying teamwork?
Switchboard’s digital workspace creates a collaborative team experience where you can get more done together—and apart.
Frequently asked questions about collaboration and leadership
Why is collaboration important in leadership?
Collaboration is crucial in leadership for several key reasons. It enhances problem-solving capabilities by bringing together diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise. Cooperating in this way allows teams to collectively tackle complex problems, generate innovative solutions, and benefit from a wider range of insights and ideas. This collaborative problem-solving approach leads to more effective and comprehensive solutions.
What is an example of collaborative leadership?
Imagine a project manager leading a software development team. Instead of dictating tasks and solutions, the project manager encourages team members to contribute their ideas, expertise, and insights. They create a collaborative environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and challenging conventional thinking. Through this collaborative leadership style, the project manager creates an environment where team members feel valued, engaged, and motivated.
How do you demonstrate leadership and collaboration skills?
Effective leaders exhibit strong communication skills by clearly conveying ideas, actively listening to others, and fostering open dialogue. They also promote inclusivity and respect by valuing diverse perspectives and creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts.