Leading Through Facilitation & Conversation
Table of contents
- What Is Collaborative Leadership?
- 5 Benefits of Collaborative Leadership
- Potential Challenges of a Collaborative Leadership Style
- 5 Essential Qualities of Collaborative Leadership
- Become a Collaborative Leader with Voltage Control
Leadership is changing. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the radical shift to remote work, leaders around the world have been adapting their leadership styles to an evolving workforce and the structural changes to the corporate world that the digital revolution has delivered.
Today, many leaders are finding success by leveraging a collaborative leadership style to drive progress and promote an atmosphere of participation and collaboration. Remote work and increasingly specialized career paths have resulted in siloed workers, often disconnected from the organizational goals and unengaged in the decision-making process. Employees can find the agency they desire under a collaboration model of leadership, as they can lead from where they are rather than being ordered about from the top down.
Collaborative leaders are able to use the power of facilitation and conversation to draw employees in toward shared goals and build strong bonds in a productive work environment. With this management style, all employees feel as though they have a valuable perspective to contribute.
In this article, we’ll break down the basics of collaborative leadership and explain how collaborative leaders implement this form of leadership across industries.
What Is Collaborative Leadership?
Collaborative leadership (sometimes called facilitative leadership) is a facilitation approach that emphasizes bringing all team members into the decision-making process and transforming employee participation into empowerment and engagement. Collaborative leadership brings a sense of personal accountability and ownership to the team members that increases their own commitment to the organizational goals.
There are three core ways to organize leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire, which may also be called authoritarian, participative, and delegative, respectively. Collaborative leadership falls under the democratic (participative) leadership style.
Under this democratic leadership style, managers and leaders take the time to create an inclusive and supportive work environment that fosters effective communication, strong bonds, and overall success. Collaborative leaders can disrupt the way we work in a human-centered, sustainable way, ultimately giving space to focus on the most central, meaningful questions for the meeting’s goal and even the organization’s purpose.
Facilitation vs. Collaborative Leadership: What’s the Difference?
Collaborative leadership (sometimes called facilitative leadership) relies heavily, as its name implies, on effective facilitation—but what’s the difference between facilitation and this type of leadership?
Facilitation is a practice that can be done, with the right practice and preparation, by anyone in order to lead a group of people through a successful decision-making process, building a consensus related to the goal of the session. Collaborative leadership, in contrast, is the overall approach of a leader to create alignment among their team, building up the capacity of the team as a whole alongside the individual contributors. While a facilitator leads a particular meeting, a collaborative leader works toward the continued improvement of the people, processes, projects, and environment they lead.
5 Benefits of Collaborative Leadership
The collaborative leadership style stands out among other approaches thanks to its broad range of benefits, which we outline below.
Improved Decision-Making Process
In many autocratic settings, a decision is handed down from the company leader without room for conversation or feedback, which leaves no space for individuals to feel ownership in the decision. By its very nature, collaborative leadership bucks this tradition, instead encouraging the active participation and open participation of the very employees who will be affected by this outcome.
Collaborative leadership requires skilled facilitation to serve as a guide for the group decision-making process. Effective facilitators have the right active communication skills and toolkit of facilitation tasks to ensure an optimal outcome.
Increased Productivity and Efficiency
When working under collaborative leadership, employees can embrace more autonomy and feel empowered in their roles. These employees were able to be a part of the decision-making process, so they will have a better understanding of the primary goal and their role in achieving it.
Employees can become more personally successful in their work and their contributions to the company, opening up space for long-term professional development while also increasing overall productivity. Collaborative leaders can also utilize facilitation techniques and practices to optimize meetings for an efficient day-to-day work environment.
Stronger Interpersonal Relationships
A great collaborative leader will foster trust with their team members, and those team members will have a greater opportunity to develop positive group dynamics and strong bonds. These improved relationships can, in turn, create a productive and positive work environment where coworkers cheer each other on and provide support to one another.
By bringing team members into the decision-making process, collaborative leaders create greater opportunities for those team members to have open discussions and really dig into their perspectives. Collaborative leaders harness the power of facilitation to turn potential conflict into healthy conversations, using gentle interventions to guide employees toward their goals.
Greater Innovation and Creative Thinking
While autocratic leadership limits who makes decisions, collaborative leadership and teamwork opens up the decision-making process to more team members who each have a unique area of expertise and perspective to contribute.
The collaborative work environment gives team members the chance to put their heads together and tackle a problem with creativity and innovation. Collaborative leaders bring together team members with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and thus can view a problem or decision from more than one angle.
Increased Engagement and Participation in the Workplace
At its core, the practice of collaborative leadership is powered by participation. Collaborative leaders provide the platform for this participation, showing team members that their ideas and contributions are valued through their active listening and constructive feedback.
When team members are a part of the decision-making process from the start, they feel a greater sense of ownership in the organization’s goals—they can better see where their role fits into the bigger picture. Collaborative leaders who are well grounded in their work can guide other team members to a groundedness and sense of purpose that fits for them now as well as for their long-term goals.
Potential Challenges of a Collaborative Leadership Style
Every leadership style has its potential challenges. With the right practice and preparation, these challenges can be overcome.
Conflict Between Autocratic and Collaborative Approaches to Leadership
The more traditional autocratic leadership style can conflict with the nature of a collaborative approach, so it’s important that the leadership of the organization is all in agreement on the utilization of a collaborative leadership style. If some company leaders think they are leading in an authoritarian manner, while others strive to utilize collaborative leadership, they can find themselves at odds when it comes to everything from big organizational decisions to how to manage informal meetings.
Just as a skilled facilitator guides participants toward alignment in a session, collaborative leaders should strive for alignment among their leadership team when it comes to how they will operate their organization.
While it may seem impossible to implement a collaborative leadership approach at a large company, many organizations of all sizes have successfully done so. For example, the founders of the iconic ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, have long championed a democratic and inclusive approach to business. In their organization, they set up processes to ensure employees at all levels could contribute ideas, voice concerns, and have a say in company decisions.
Develop the skills you and your team need to facilitate transformative meetings, drive collaboration, and inspire innovation.
5 Essential Qualities of Collaborative Leadership
The five essential qualities of collaborative leadership are closely connected to the core skills essential to effective facilitation and are: purposed, inclusive, clear, crafted, and adaptive. Let’s break down how a successful collaborative leader uses these qualities in their practice.
In both facilitation and leadership, purpose is everything. Without a guiding north star and clear purpose, a meeting can feel like a waste of time, and the same is true when applied to leadership. If a collaborative leader isn’t sure of their guiding purpose, they cannot effectively anchor their team to their tasks and their commitments. Employees feel adrift and unengaged.
But being purposed isn’t just about having a direction—it’s about sharing that direction and forming a structured environment around it, allowing all team members to feel connected to a greater purpose and invested in realizing it.
Modern businesses regularly tout their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet that value does not always make its way down to the experiences of all team members. Collaborative leaders have the unique opportunity to make a significant impact to the inclusivity goals of the organization simply by the way they guide people, run meetings, and operate the business.
Leaders should use their active listening skills and create a psychologically safe environment with a climate of trust, where all ideas are encouraged and welcome. Importantly, inclusion starts outside of the meeting room, with collaborative leaders ensuring that a diverse group is invited and no one is overlooked.
Corporate communication often seems to exist at two extremes, either sharing an overwhelming amount of information that’s impossible to sift through or failing to be transparent at all. Through collaborative leadership, leaders and managers invite employees in, making them a part of the collaborative process rather than a recipient of endless memos.
Collaborative leaders should use clear communication to guide but not dictate, creating focus among the team toward common goals. They should seek to understand rather than persuade.
Collaborative leadership can be closely tied to the design thinking process, which encourages a holistic view of a problem or decision, welcoming uncertainty and ambiguity to better consider all sides of a problem. Collaborative leaders should therefore cultivate a crafted mindset, promoting experiences over agendas.
When leaders value crafted methodologies, they can be intentional in their actions and promote the utmost creativity. By crafting a structured environment, they can harness the collective brilliance of a team and encourage thinking collaboratively.
With how quickly the world can change, great leaders must be highly adaptive. For collaborative leaders, adaptability isn’t just another buzzword, though—it’s the cornerstone of genuine progress and unity. Collaborative leaders rely on their adaptiveness to identify when needs change, recognize when a plan is failing, understand the mood of their team members, and more.
A well-laid plan may seem like the ultimate sign of a great leader, but a great leader actually knows when to pivot away from the anticipated course. Collaborative leaders utilize their adaptiveness to delve beyond the surface and address the core challenges that, when resolved, can set a team on a transformative trajectory. This might mean completely scrapping initial plans altogether in service to what is ultimately best for the team.
Become a Collaborative Leader with Voltage Control
At Voltage Control, we are leading experts in facilitation and collaborative leadership. By bringing together the top thought leaders and the latest methodologies, we teach the power of facilitation through our certifications, workshops, and beyond. Voltage Control also hosts Facilitation Lab, a facilitator community. The Facilitation Lab HQ bi-weekly meetup provides a free place to engage with and learn from other facilitators in a way that deepens learning and exposure to new techniques and tools.
Contact Voltage Control to learn how collaborative leadership can transform the future of your business.