Organizations across the globe make strategic alliances in the form of collaborative relationships. These alliances hinge on the fact that that organizational collaboration is synergistic in nature and thus participating organizations benefit tremendously. This research paper sought to elaborate three key aspects of leadership that are essential for success in organizational collaboration.
It was established that success in organizational collaboration calls for leadership that exhibits authentic self-awareness, espouses effective communication, and involves partners in consultative decision-making.
By so doing, the leadership can gain the trust of the other partners and understand them well, thus avoiding unnecessary conflicts in the course of the collaboration process. Successful collaboration is measurable through mutual respect, understanding and trust, and open and frequent communication among partners. Organizational collaboration is thus a good concept due to its beneficial nature to organizations.
In the face of stiff competition, decentralization of operations, and increasingly scarce resources, organizations across the world find it imperative to form strategic alliances. The principal focus of these alliances is to combine the strengths of different organizations so that the resultant synergy can benefit all the participants. The alliances can take many forms, but this research paper focuses on collaborative alliances.
Thomson et al. (2007) define collaboration as the formal or informal interaction between autonomous or semi-autonomous entities, which lead to the joint creation of rules and structures to reign on their interaction. Vangen and Huxham (2003) posit that when two organizations form a collaborative arrangement, the resultant synergistic outcome transcends what was individually achievable by the organizations.
With many organizations incorporating collaborative approaches in their operations, it is pertinent for them to understand all aspects of this relationship. This research paper thus seeks to assess the concept of organizational collaboration with the intent of elaborating on three key aspects of leadership that underpin success in organizational collaboration.
A Synopsis of the Concept of Organizational Collaboration
A careful consideration of the lifestyle of ancient populace reveals that they engaged in collaborative relationships both at individual and societal levels. It is not clear whether the ancient people consciously made collaborative efforts or they were compelled by circumstances to engage in collaborative arrangements.
The origin of the concept notwithstanding, today the concept is widely used in virtually all industries. Art, education, business, and science industries among others exhibit elements of collaboration, albeit at varying levels in their operations.
The widespread use of collaboration is attributable to its beneficial nature. Competitive pressures compel organizations to want to achieve so much, but at the same time keep operational costs low. Since collaboration is possible both at inter-organizational and intra-organizational levels, it allows firms to draw from the knowledge of experienced and all round employees at all levels of operation (Van Wijk et al., 2008).
Intra-organizational collaboration leads to building of social connections, which greatly minimize conflicts within the organization with the benefit of allowing employees to share knowledge and varying viewpoints and eventually choose the best among the several possible approaches.
Concisely, collaboration within organizations or beyond grants the actors a competitive advantage that cannot be rivaled. Organizational collaboration thus has to be systematically guided through particular steps as shown in the figure below for it to succeed.
A prime example of the milestones organizations can achieve through collaboration is the creation of Whitestrips, which is an innovative product that came into being through collaborative efforts of Proctor and Gamble (P&G) oral care unit, its fabric care unit, and the corporate R & D unit (Van Wijk et al., 2008).
Proctor and Gamble brought together its oral care expertise, fabric care expertise, and film expertise to deliver a very successful product to the market. These benefits make organizational collaboration a concept that needs to be fostered and propagated since it promises much to its users.
Aspects of leadership necessary for successful organizational collaboration
Organizations are under pressure to meet the ever-changing and increasingly sophisticated nature of customer demands in the face of a rapidly changing business landscape. This aspect compels even the traditionally conservative organizations to look towards collaboration as a viable means through which they can cost effectively achieve their development agenda.
It is imperative for leaders in participating organizations to be fully acquainted with the tenets of collaboration and the challenges inherent in this kind of relationship. According to Morgan (2012), a collaborative relationship is the most complex of the possible relationships that organizations can engage in during their operations.
This premise is founded on the fact that collaboration calls for acting organizations to relinquish, to a given extent, their autonomy and share what was traditionally confidential information with the partner(s) that may sometimes be rivals in the organization’s line of operations. In a bid to achieve successful collaborative relationships, the leadership of an organization should be vigilant in the following areas to ensure sustainable success.
Authentic self-awareness focuses more on the leader’s personality than the leadership style the leader chooses to adopt. However, in collaborative relationships, both personality and the leadership style adopted should synchronize to further the goals of relationship. Wilson (2013) notes that maintaining personal maturity is paramount for the leader of an organization that seeks to engage in a collaborative relationship with another organization.
Its importance holds even in circumstances where an organization seeks to engage its employees in intra-organizational collaborative arrangements. At cross-boundary levels, it is imperative for leaders to exude an aura of maturity because it serves to build trust in the partners. Collaborative relationships attach a lot of importance to trust and as such, any viable avenue through which it can be pursued should be adequately explored.
Thomson et al. (2007) posit that trust is central to collaboration as it simplifies otherwise complex processes thereby cutting down on operational costs faster than any other process can. Cultivating trust is therefore important because it takes many resources in form of time and effort build and as such, every single element that can contribute to its development should be encouraged by every possible means.
In addition to personal maturity, being modest is another important element of authentic self-awareness that is vital in achieving successful collaboration. The importance of being modest stems from the fact that leadership that espouses modesty will refrain from taking any extremist stands. Scathingly attacking anyone with a dissenting perspective on a subject under discussion can undermine any collaborative efforts.
Van Wijk et al. (2008) posit that leadership should play a pivotal role of fostering an organizational culture that espouses good-faith dissent and values amicable conflict resolution via direct negotiation. For this goal to be conceivable, the leadership should be modest in all its dealings both within the organization and with other organizations.
During brainstorming sessions, free flow of ideas from all participants is important because it yields all the possible perspectives to a given issue before the group settles for the best. Unfortunately, this scenario cannot happen in an environment where the leadership does not encourage modesty in interactions with partners. Being modest can also catalyze the trust building process notably.
Active listening is another key aspect of authentic self-awareness. Listening is an important part of the communication process and success in collaboration hinges on effective communication among the participants. Effective communication eliminates any misconceptions that may develop because such misconceptions breach the trust that organizations strive to build in collaborative relationships.
According to Wilson (2013), active listening is essential for understanding and distinguishing between personal and professional motives during interaction with partners.
Being able to distinguish between the two is important to help put self-seeking personal motives in check and stop them from derailing collaborative relationships and it can also give a leader insight into the kind of partner they are about to engage in a collaborative relationship. This aspect helps in making informed decisions on whether to work collaboratively or not.
Communication and openness among collaborating partners is a prerequisite to successful organizational collaboration. This assertion holds as no meaningful interaction can take place before the acting partners first agree to set aside their individual ambitions and engage one another in open, objective, and goal-oriented discussions that go beyond seeking to extract important operational information from another party while holding back on the same information.
According to Van Wijk et al. (2008), effective communication lays a foundation for breakthrough ideas, which is founded on the fact that once an ambient environment in which partners can communicate their passions without fear of criticism or contradiction has been set, partners can open up and voice their perspectives and ideas freely. The ideas can culminate into a single super idea that no partner would conceive on his or her own.
Thomson et al. (2007) agree with this premise by noting that of the many studies that have been conducted on collaboration in organizations, all organizations reported beneficial results that none could envisage at the beginning of the relationship. This assertion implies that as the relationship matures, the partners develop trust in one another and open up their strengths to each other.
The leadership should ensure the effective communication leads to understanding each partner at his or her individual level. It is important for the leadership of every participating organization to understand that each organization that decides to participate in a collaborative relationship appreciates the fact that it is inadequate in some respects hence the need for collaboration (Larson, 2011).
This aspect implies that each organization that engages in a collaborative relationship is unique and other partners should appreciate them as such, which is achievable if the organizations realize the importance of effective communication and openly communicate about their differences.
This element calls for the leaders to be direct in their communication to eliminate chances of ambiguity or misconceptions that may arise from indirect communication. The leaders of collaborating organizations should identify and use communication channels that are suitable for their context because for communication to be effective, the chosen channel of communication should deliver messages as originally constituted by the author.
Consultative Decision Making
The third key aspect of leadership that can ensure success in organizational collaboration is consultative decision making. Collaborative relationships yield good results for organizations that choose to make them work successfully. However, it is important to note that any organization that chooses to engage in a collaborative relationship must appreciate the fact that it cannot coerce the partner(s) into doing anything.
Concisely, the process is voluntary and as such, the leadership in its efforts to cultivate a culture of collaboration within an organization or between organizations, needs to always be conscious of the fact that it can only engage other parties to the extent they are willing to be engaged.
Thomson et al. (2007) note that collaboration is complex not only because organizations participate at will, but also due to the fact that conventional systems like hierarchy and standardization cannot work in a collaborative arrangement. This premise hinges on the fact that participating organizations are autonomous and semi-autonomous entities, which can only be influenced, but not directed to carry out a particular task.
The leadership should be aware of this element and find ways of influencing partners into doing what is necessary to ensure success of the relationship (Vangem & Huxam, 2003). The distinguishing feature of leaders who can steer collaborative arrangements to success is that they can start a team building process when everything else seems vain, as they espouse action, but achieve it through making other people see the necessity of taking the action.
The decision making process should be taken through structures that have been judiciously devised to ensure that they maintain the involvement of all while at the same time integrating diverse perspectives. Any conflicts that arise in the process need to be amicably resolved before any decision is made (Larson, 2011), which helps in making it clear to the conflicting parties that any decision that is taken thereafter is not aimed at undermining any of them.
In case such a scenario arises, the leadership should be vigilant to uphold transparency since it is the best way to demonstrate that decisions are taken without any bias. This move can help in propagating trust among partners. The decision making process is therefore important and needs to be treated as such.
Wilson (2013) identifies five key indicators of success in organizational collaboration and posits that a successful collaboration is one in which there is mutual respect, understanding and trust, an appropriate cross section of members, open and frequent communication, and adequate funds to facilitate the collaborative process. When any collaborating organizations meet these criteria, their collaboration can be termed as successful.
Competitive pressures have compelled organizations to deliver much when they have little at their disposal. This aspect necessitated the formation of mutually beneficial strategic alliances called collaborative relationships. Studies have shown that these relationships are important since they are synergistic in nature and as such often yield breakthrough ideas which none of the individual organizations could individually conceive.
Even though collaboration is beneficial to organizations, it is the most complex of relationships that can exist between organizations. Therefore, the leadership of an organization should observe certain leadership elements to collaborate with other organizations successfully.
The key elements that need to be put into consideration include authentic self-awareness for the leadership, effective communication, and consultative decision making among others. Authentic self-awareness calls for leaders to exhibit personality traits that can aid their interaction with leaders from other organizations to be smooth.
Communication also emerged as a key element in successful collaboration because no interaction is possible without communication. Finally, consultative decision making also emerged as being key to successful collaboration among organizations. The leadership of collaborating organizations should be conscious of these facts at all times to make their collaborative efforts a success.
Larson, D. (2011). Inter-organization Partnership and collaborative Work Tools. In K. Milhauser (Eds.), Distributed Team collaboration in Organizations’ emerging Tools and Practices (pp. 212-224). Hershey, PA: IGI Global Publishing.
Morgan, J. (2012). The Collaborative Organization: A strategic Guide to solving your Business challenges using emerging Social and Collaborative tools. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Thomson, A., Perry, L., & Miller T. (2007). Conceptualizing and measuring Collaboration. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19(1), 23-56.
Vangen, S., & Huxham, C. (2003). Enacting leadership for collaborative advantage: Dilemmas of Ideology and Pragmatism in the activities of Partnership Managers. British Journal of Management, 14(1), 61–76.
Van Wijk, R., Jansen, J., & Lyles, M. (2008). Inter and Intra-organizational knowledge transfer: A Meta-analytic Review and Assessment of its Antecedents and Consequences. Journal of Management Studies, 45(4), 830-853.
Wilson, C. (2013). Leadership, Collaboration, and Veterans-related Nonprofit Organizations. Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(1), 48–53.