Collaboration is something almost everyone agrees is a good thing. It’s become almost axiomatic in management and leadership literature that collaboration is an unalloyed good. Surely, knowing how to collaborate well is something that will set you and your organization apart. However, any strength overused can become a weakness.
I have seen managers fall into the trap of over collaboration. Many leaders want to see solutions and strategies bubble up from their organizations. They want consensus and buy in. Many times that approach will work. Your team will know where it needs to go and what your stakeholders want and it will form a consensus if you let it. However, there are other times when the team doesn’t know which direction to go or when there are serious disagreements about the right steps to take. I’ve seen organizations broken into factions around disparate strategies or where internal teams have lost touch with stakeholder needs.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, it makes sense to begin with collaboration. You need to hear what each side is saying and let them give voice to their opinions. You need to listen but avoid simply becoming the facilitator between factions or switching from side to side based on the last conversation you had. Hear all the viewpoints but at a certain point the organization needs you to stop collaborating and make a decision. When team members sense that the organization is adrift and rudderless, they disengage quickly. Even if they do not 100 percent agree with the decisions made, most team members in an unfocused organization want the leader to set the strategy and point everyone in the same direction. That doesn’t make it easy though. It can be a vulnerable moment for many leaders leaving them feeling exposed and open to criticism.
Some of the best leaders navigate this situation by reconnecting with their customers and stakeholders. If you can understand and articulate the results they want your organization to deliver that becomes the kernel of the strategy you set. It also helps to explain why you’ve made the decisions you have and avoids feeling arbitrary. Once you’ve defined the direction, you need to communicate it clearly along with processes you will put in place to maintain accountability. Again, this is a time where you should collaborate but be careful. People need to be heard and you need to make sure they understand the vision but you are also the guardian of the strategy. Don’t fall into the trap of over collaboration and allow your forward progress to get bogged down. Make sure you stay on course and maintain that accountability.
It’s a difficult balancing act but essential to good leadership.