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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Four Traits of Collaborative Leaders

Relentlessly pursue transparent decision making. Decisions are always about making choices; it’s critical that you are clear about how you make them. Tell people your style and thought process for navigating tricky, or even every day, decisions. In our experience, and this is backed up by research, there’s a direct relationship between the agility and resilience of a team and the transparency of its decision-making processes. When you’re open and transparent about the answers to three questions — who made the decision, who is accountable for the outcomes of the decision, and is that accountability real — people in organizations spend far less time questioning how or why a decision was made. Think of how much time is wasted ferreting out details when a decision is made and communicated because the people who are affected don’t know who made the decision or who is accountable for its consequences.

… As a leader, your responsibility is to document the key decision paths of your organization and communicate them to your team as often as you can. There was a time in business when hoarding information was a source of organizational power. Today, the inverse is true if you want to motivate a team that is increasingly mobile, global and socially driven.

Explain the guiding principles of your decision-making style at each stage of your organization’s decision paths. Share your biases and tell war stories of how your successes and failures shaped these biases. We often hear the phrase “intelligent risk taking” — nothing empowers people to take good risks more than understanding the conditions for taking the risk in the first place. Transparent decision making is critical to empowering your people.

View resources as instruments of action, not as possessions. The promise of flexibility and agility as an organization, inspired by establishing shared goals across organizational boundaries, is only attainable if you back it up by sharing resources as well.

It’s hardly a new observation that people sometimes stockpile resources around their business unit or department, or are slow — perhaps even hesitant — to share those resources with other departments. There might even be incentives in place that discourage sharing. For as long as companies have pursued profits, the size of one’s organization has defined the size of one’s financial opportunity. But are your resources truly applied as optimally as possible to your market opportunities in a way that best serves the total business? By unlocking these trapped resources, organizations can more quickly and successfully pursue emerging market opportunities.

Having a common approach to assess and communicate resource decisions is critical to creating a transparent environment among leaders. The more transparent the environment, the more willing leaders will be to share resources in support of the shared goals of the entire business, and the harder it will be for resisters to hoard them. This shift in approach is not an easy one for leaders to make and requires a balancing act between clear expectations, patience and follow through. Ultimately, it’s as much a mindset as it is a process. The fundamental enablers of collaborative leadership are viewing resources as instruments of action rather than as possessions and aligning your company’s larger shared goals to an accountability system that includes rewards and incentives for working together effectively.

Codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards. Modeling the desired collaborative behaviors — showing your employees that you walk the talk — is the goal. But what happens when you’re not around? The more these behaviors are codified into an end-to-end system across your organization, the greater the odds of collaboration succeeding when you’re not there to reinforce cultural norms. As you define the decision paths of your organization and build a common vocabulary to make those decision paths as transparent as possible, take the time to establish clear parameters. Who gets to make decisions? Are all decisions tied to funding? These are the types of questions to which everyone must know the answers. Publish the parameters for these decision rights and tell people which leaders have these rights — that information is crucial to breaking through any consensus logjam; decision-rights holders should have 51 percent of the vote when collaborative teams can’t reach natural agreement.

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The Reviewers

  1. Zachary Tumin is the coauthor, with William Bratton, of Collaborate or Perish! Reaching across Boundaries in a Networked World (Crown Business, 2012). He leads the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ project in Information and Communications Technology and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and directs the Harvard component of a joint Harvard–MIT initiative in cybersecurity.
  2. William Bratton is chairman of Kroll Inc., a leading security and risk consultancy owned by Altegrity, Inc. Previously, Bratton was police commissioner of Boston and New York City, and police chief of Los Angeles. He is also the coauthor of Turnaround: How America’s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic (with Peter Knobler, Random House, 1998).

This Book

  1. The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential (Cisco Systems, 2011), by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese
  2. Ron Ricci is vice president of corporate positioning at Cisco Systems Inc. He is also the coauthor of Momentum: How Companies Become Unstoppable Market Forces (with John Volkmann, Harvard Business School Press, 2003).
  3. Carl Wiese is senior vice president at Cisco Systems Inc., and leader of its multibillion-dollar global collaboration business. He is a veteran computer, data, and telecommunications industry executive with more than 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, services, and product management.
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