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Do Leaders Hide Behind Collaboration?

It’s always interesting when we ask employees to describe the culture of their organization and they happily tell us how “collaborative” it is. As they smile and say how everyone has input into decisions and all employees work together to accomplish goals, we think to ourselves, “red flag, red flag!” What we are wondering is whether the culture truly is collaborative or if it is that the leaders don’t have the courage to make decisions on their own. Are they hiding behind group decisions? Are they making sure they can always point fingers back to the ‘collaborative’ decision making process if things don’t turn out well?

In our years working in many different organizations we have noticed a pattern in organizations that are, in our opinion, “too” collaborative. They tend to have numerous meetings and have a tendency to be somewhat stagnate in the marketplace. These organizations are risk adverse and don’t often promote “out of the box” thinking. Every decision takes a long time to make and is made by group consensus. Don’t get us wrong, collaboration is a great way to get things done in certain situations. It’s just not the best approach in every situation. Collaboration is a time consuming approach to getting work done and should only be used when necessary. So, when is collaboration the most appropriate approach?

1. If the decision is critical and will impact a large portion of the organization

When decisions are critically important, they are worth the time and energy it takes to collaborate. For example, if an organization is planning on purchasing new software that most of the organization will use, it is important that each impacted group has a chance to weigh in on the decision. The organization should use a collaborative approach to ensure all key players have a chance to share their concerns and outline the requirements they have for the new software.

2. When buy-in is imperative

If it is absolutely imperative that key players accept and support the decision, they need to be involved in the process of making the decision. Sometimes it’s worth spending extra time up front to get input and buy-in from stakeholders rather than making a decision with limited contributions and having to get the buy-in on the back end. It is, however, important to only use a collaborative approach if, in fact, the input from others will be considered. If you need buy-in, but don’t plan to really listen to or incorporate input form others into the final product, then don’t ask at all. You will need to get their support using a different approach.

3. If there is enough time to use the approach effectively

Being collaborative is time consuming. It requires a number of different steps: 1) key players need to be identified, 2) they need to be invited into the process, 3) their concerns/questions/comments need to be collected and addressed, 4) joint decisions need to be made, 5) agreed upon plans for implementation must be identified, and 6) the plans need to be put into motion. If there isn’t enough time to completely and fully collaborate then be sure to communicate the limited role that participants will play. Significant damage can be done to relationships by going through the motions of collaboration, without actually allowing others’ influence in the overall process.

If you find yourself sitting in back-to-back meetings with a large number of attendees where a great deal of discussion is taking place and very little decision making is happening – you may be in an organization that is “too” collaborative. Urge employees to use the above criteria when determining if they need to invite others into the process. Encourage people to make decisions on their own and support calculated risks. Collaboration has many benefits, but it’s not always the best way to get things done.

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