What Is Collaborative Leadership? (Definition And Benefits)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 September 2022

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Some workplaces may benefit from straying from traditional leadership models that have hierarchical structures. Collaborative leadership, also known as cooperative leadership, is a leadership style that involves cooperation from management and employees at every level to complete projects and meet organisational goals. Understanding this type of leadership and how to implement it can help you create a more productive working environment for your team members. In this article, we define collaborative leadership, discuss its features, list its benefits and explain how to implement it in the workplace.

What Is Collaborative Leadership?

Collaborative leadership is a leadership style that consists of managers working alongside the employees they oversee. It deviates from the traditional leadership style that is often hierarchical. Instead of a top-down structure, cooperative leadership involves input from every party. Managers can share information with employees who may use it to contribute to their organisation more thoroughly. Under this leadership style, employees and managers work together across various departments to discover optimal solutions for meeting company goals.

Related: Collaboration Skills: Definition, Benefits And Examples

Features Of Cooperative Leadership

Here are some key features of cooperative leadership:

  • Mutual support: Everyone who participates in a cooperative leadership structure provides mutual support. Each team member and manager help one another meet their goals and develop professionally.

  • Oversight of company processes: More traditional leadership styles involve overseeing the personnel. In cooperative leadership, members prefer to oversee the execution of processes instead of micromanaging employees.

  • Collaborative problem-solving and decision-making: Under a cooperative leadership style, a single leader does not make decisions and solve problems. Instead, this style encourages managers and employees to create solutions and make decisions together.

  • Mutual accountability: Employees and managers ensure that everyone is completing their expected duties, and they recognise and celebrate each other's achievements and contributions.

  • An organisational focus: When a workplace implements cooperative leadership, it focuses more on the execution of the company's overall goals. It focuses less on self-interest amongst employees and managers.

Related: What Is Organisational Development? (Goals And Benefits)

Benefits Of Cooperative Leadership

Here are some benefits of cooperative leadership:

It can reduce each individual's workload

While each team member may have individual assignments in a workplace that implements cooperative leadership, this style can reduce each individual's workload. The cooperative leadership style attempts to divide all the work equally. Individuals may also assist their team members with any assignments that require extra effort.

It can improve team morale

Team members may enjoy their work more when they can solve problems, work together and learn from one another. This means that the cooperative leadership style can create an inviting workplace. Here, employees may feel more intrinsic motivation to perform their work adequately, as they can freely contribute their thoughts and ideas.

Related: What Is Employee Retention? (And How To Increase It)

It can invite different perspectives and opinions

A company that implements a cooperative leadership style often invites different opinions and perspectives. An organisation with ongoing issues may benefit from receiving input from all its members rather than just high-level executives. These different perspectives can help introduce necessary changes that can develop and grow the organisation.

Related: Empathic Skills: Definition And Examples (With Tips)

Potential Drawbacks To Cooperative Leadership

Here are some potential drawbacks to cooperative leadership and advice on how to overcome them:

It can minimise innovation

One potential drawback to cooperative leadership is that it can minimise innovation. When multiple team members are working together regularly, they may think alike and have limited perspectives. A company can overcome this potential challenge by investing in talented employees with expertise in various fields. It can also invest in ongoing training and development programs so that all employees can expand their skill sets. In addition, it can host and attend relevant conferences so that it can remain knowledgeable of the latest developments in its industry.

Related: How To Think Out Of The Box In 7 Steps (With Tips)

It can create ambiguous roles

Another potential drawback to cooperative leadership is that it can create ambiguous roles. In a workplace that encourages collaboration from everyone, some team members may overstep in certain areas. For instance, an employee may make a decision that affects the core operations without consulting their colleagues. A company can overcome this potential challenge by defining roles for the completion of urgent or important tasks so that employees do not exceed their primary responsibilities.

Related: Leadership Roles (With Examples and Functions Of Leadership)

It can increase operating costs

Cooperative leadership may also lead to an increase in operating costs. Collaboration can improve the quality of work that a company produces, but it may require more resources. For instance, a workplace with a cooperative leadership style may encourage multiple people to work on an assignment that only requires the effort of one or two employees.

A company can overcome this potential challenge by accounting for the costs of collaboration and scaling accordingly. It can also invest in mentorship programs to teach individuals and help them become more independent while still fostering cooperation.

5 Ways To Implement Cooperative Leadership In The Workplace

Here are five ways to implement cooperative leadership in the workplace:

1. Research the cooperative leadership style

One of the easiest ways you can begin implementing the cooperative leadership style in the workplace is to research it. Gather information on the most effective techniques and practises. Try to look for successful examples of cooperative leadership in your specific industry. You may reference business magazines and blogs, corporate newsletters and government websites to find the most updated and relevant information.

2. Encourage active listening

You can also foster the cooperative leadership style by encouraging active listening. You can also ask managers and supervisors to invite employees to communicate anything they want to share, including suggestions, complaints and ideas. Ensure that the company attempts to hear employee needs and preferences. An environment with active listening fosters the flow of free and transparent communication so that everyone can share their contributions.

It is common for some individuals to be more vocal about their ideas for a company. Other team members may be more passive. It is your job as a leader to listen to what everyone has to share and encourage unassertive individuals to communicate their ideas. This initiative can help you foster cooperative leadership in a more authentic way.

3. Dismantle silos within the workplace

Silos are departments or divisions within a workplace that do not collaborate with one another. As a leader, you can dismantle silos to create a more collaborative environment. One of the easiest ways to do so is to promote a unified vision. For example, if a company has customer service, marketing and sales teams that do not currently work with one another, you can benefit from establishing a unified vision. This vision can help each department create objectives that can fulfil the company's newly established vision.

Another way to dismantle silos within the workplace is to introduce collaboration tools. You can try using resources like data management tools, shared documents and project management platforms. These types of tools can encourage teams to work together and share information even if they are on different teams, departments or geographical locations.

4. Create socialisation opportunities

As a leader, you can create socialisation opportunities to make the employees feel that the cooperative leadership style is more natural. Consider scheduling weekly team meetings so that everyone can meet and share what they are thinking as it relates to the company. You may also organise focus groups so that various team members can hone their skills or receive clarification on current projects.

Depending on the work schedule of most employees in the company, you may consider organising events outside of work. For instance, you may schedule a monthly excursion that involves hiking or canoeing. Giving managers and team members from distinct divisions the chance to interact in a new environment can improve workplace collaboration.

5. Establish a model for making decisions

Even though the cooperative leadership style encourages collaboration, it is important to establish a model for making decisions. This initiative can minimise productivity gaps in the workplace. A few models you may consider for your workplace include the rational decision model, the recognition-primed decision model and the intuitive decision model. One model that is suitable for one company may not work for another, so it is important for you to evaluate all your options and discuss them with other members of the organisation.

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