collaborative team putting fists together

Collaborative Leadership is the Fastest Path to a Culture of Success

What is a culture of success?

Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's a culture in which everyone feels successful. Where the organization is a success–it's achieving its strategic goals, which, by the way, very few organizations actually accomplish.

It's a culture where teams are high-performing and are achieving their goals. It's a culture where individuals feel engaged, they feel their work is meaningful, and they are able to meet the challenges they take on and be successful at them.

What does this sound like? It sounds like what a lot of millennials are looking for doesn't it?

So, think about it. If you create a culture of success, instead of one of failure, you'll not only be more successful, but you'll also solve whatever millennial problem you might be having. Two birds, one stone. 

Millennials are pointing the way to the type of culture organizations need to create:

  • They want less hierarchy–yup, that's part of a culture of success.
  • They want more engagement; check.
  • They want more meaning; check.
  • They want more fun and less drudgery; check, check.

You create a culture of success and you've got yourself a millennial magnet.

A millennial friend of mine had a great job at a very large oil company. She left there to join a smaller company, for 30 percent less pay, because she wanted a better culture.

Let's not fool ourselves. Culture is important, not only to millennials, but to the entire population, because if you have a culture of failure, you're not getting the best out of your people. They are disengaged. They aren't performing as well as they might.  

What Exactly Does a Culture of Failure Look Like?

Well, it's kind of obvious in that people are set up to fail.

Now you probably don't think you do that, but I'm pretty certain you do, at least that's a given if you're using the old vertical management operating system. The old system focuses on the hierarchy, individual decision making and individual accountability and figuring out who to blame when things go wrong, and is based on directive leadership where RACI charts dictate which leader is going to make which decision with which inputs.

The way you have been taught to lead and the systems that support that model of leadership–systems like restructuring to solve organizational issues, reactive accountability, and annual performance management–all lead to a culture of failure. Oh, and there is that big one–the lack of a system for selecting and prioritizing projects which leads to everyone having too much to do. That comes from the belief that overcommitting people is a way to make them work harder. Not. Being overwhelmed is not a productive state. You know that. Neither is being bored. Neither is being micromanaged. 

In order to create a culture of success, you must shift your thinking and your operating system so that people are voluntarily making commitments, not just being assigned projects or tasks. You also must create proactive accountability and a new system for understanding performance, and prioritize projects without overcommitting.

That's probably the hardest part for most organizations. You have to shift from directive leadership to collaborative leadership and that's the best place to begin the shift.

And let's be clear–collaborative leadership is not about politely collecting inputs from stakeholders and then making the decision as an individual. It's about shifting the ownership of that decision from the individual to the team.

Collaborative leadership is really about team participation and when the team really participates, they start to take ownership and that ownership is everything. It creates engagement. It creates motivation. It creates commitment.

Take our Free Crash Course in Collaborative Project Leadership

Now you're on your way to a culture of success. 

Changing to Collaborative Leadership Is Not Subtle nor Simple

It can take years to master the craft of leading without authority–of leading collaboratively. But if you want to create a culture that fosters real engagement and real ownership, then you have to start that journey to learning how to lead differently.

One of the easiest places to start is with project leaders.

They have the challenge of having to lead teams that don't report to them, so they already have the need to lead collaboratively, but very few of them have actually been trained in the tools and techniques to do just that. Instead, they have been trained in directive project management–how to create a plan, monitor and control a project, manage change. They have been trained in how to be the expert in project management.  

But in a team-based approach, which is what collaboration really is, the team and the leader need to be trained in team-based tools for planning and monitoring. It's the team that has to work out the plan, not the leader. The leader's role shifts to that of a facilitator in this team-based process.  

Collaborative project leadership is about working through the steps in a project management process but having the team doing the planning work, make the decisions, and solve problems that arise. When you get good at collaborative project management across the organization, you are on your way to having an engaged workforce and creating a culture of success.

The next shift is harder–getting all those hierarchical leaders to let go of control, but we’ll save that for another article.

First things first: Start with projects. 

About Paula Martin

Paula Martin is a Master Level Certified Matrix Management Consultant™ (CMMC™—MOL), and the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute. She is the developer of the MM 2.0™ Operating System, and the author of the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, the Matrix Management Reinvented book series, and more than 10 other books on topics related to Matrix Management and Managing Projects in a Matrix.

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