In terms of what creates an ethical, quality-focused, productive and successful team of people, Individualistic practices reduce group cohesiveness. This is because the supporting individualistic behaviors and subsequent rewards cause confusion between a collective effort and individual achievement. This article reviews how to spark collaboration over competition.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton

For some people success is everything — being individualistic and relying on cunning and skills is the name of the game.

For others, letting other people win, while receiving clear daily directives, makes work life easier. They do not want to be managers and if the playing field is fair and respectful, they will work very well with competitive, individualistic managers who call the shots. 

Unfortunately, decision makers who rely solely on their own information and instinct will make correct decisions in unknown territory less than 50% of the time. 

With most small businesses failing within their first five years of operation, making the right call only half the time makes for poor odds in our competitive, global marketplace. 

Over the past twenty years, because these odds, there has been a shift away from competitive and individualistic top down work structures to those more team based and collaborative. With this shift is a requirement for different leadership skills.  And, where competitive leaders could initially fake the new skill set, consistent and predictable collaboration required these leaders to grow, become self reflective and capable of helping others succeed without diminishing their own concept of self importance.

Competition among employees is inherent in the Individualistic culture because rewards benefit employees who are more skilled than others.

On the other hand, collaborative and group-centered behaviors like trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success increase team cohesiveness.  Success comes from the efforts of skilled group members who work well together, problem solve, share knowledge, and adhere to standards in order to achieve organizational goals.  And, the leaders who guide these teams to success embrace and embody certain characteristics that are easy to identify and can be seen daily in how they guide and encourage fellow team mates.

In terms of what creates an ethical, quality-focused, productive and successful team of people, Individualistic practices reduce group cohesiveness.  This is because the supporting individualistic behaviors and subsequent rewards cause confusion between a collective effort and individual achievement.

For example, competition and rewarding the best single producer is an individualistic cultural value. Competition for power, position, recognition, and autonomy exist because only one skilled person can fill a management slot, which is based on personal achievement.  The rewards are stacked against fellow employees helping other employees succeed unless it is a requirement for holding a position or advancing to another.  Helping others to be successful might actually be detrimental — especially if helped employees are able to seize opportunity away from their mentors.

Competition among employees is inherent in the Individualistic culture because rewards benefit employees who are more skilled than others.

On the other hand, collaborative and group-centered behaviors like trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success increase team cohesiveness.  Success comes from the efforts of skilled group members who work well together, problem solve, share knowledge, and adhere to standards in order to achieve organizational goals.  And, the leaders who guide these teams to success embrace and embody certain characteristics that are easy to identify and can be seen daily in how they guide and encourage fellow team mates.

The following is a list of leadership characteristics of a collaborative leader.

1. Trustworthy

Collaborative leaders do what they say they are going to do and are readily willing to trust others.  This means they are open to listening to concerns and to address them in an open and responsible way without creating fear and defensiveness in others.  They are wired to keep communication channels open and their words match their actions over time.

2.  Attentive and Patient

Collaborative leaders are attentive and patient in their dealings with others and strive for fairness in their dealings. They assume that others want to do the right thing and, therefore, they seek to understand others before asserting their own positions.  Likewise, the more sharply attentive a leader is, the sooner the leader is able to identify another person’s inner state resulting in rapport building, compassion and empathy.  Conversely, self-absorption kills rapport and makes compassion and empathy virtually impossible to achieve. 

3.  Mentors and Coaches

Collaborative leaders are teachers at heart.  It is important to them that co-workers have the skills needed to be successful on the job.  Therefore, they are readily available to work through the cognitive understandings and manual skills of new work assignments until the co-worker has a thorough understanding of expectations and the skills to do the job right.  They check back often to find out what is working and to determine what can be clarified.  They will spend as much time as necessary to co-create success with employees.  They feel joy and satisfaction when others are successful.

4.  Genuine

Collaborative leaders are sincere and congruent in their feelings and communications.  They know how to identify what they are feeling and can communicate it in a way that does not create fear and defensiveness in others.

5.  Empathetic

Collaborative leaders are comfortable with emotion.  They also know how important emotion is in human and work relationships.  They understand that perceptions of emotional events often need to be expressed before another person is able to move forward.  Therefore, they are active listeners, are attentive, and can imagine what others must be feeling.  They are able to communicate what they perceive to deepen communication channels and to help others vent, problem solve and move forward. 

6. Comfortable with ambiguity

Collaborative leaders are comfortable in not knowing what they do not know.  Therefore, their coaching takes the tone of teaching rather than micro managing.  This is because a collaborative leader is always learning.  You will often hear them say, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I do not know”.  They are curious about others and welcome opportunities to learn from other leaders as well as their employees.

7.  Committed to winning

Collaborative leaders are highly committed in achieving their goals, which are sometimes different or in alignment with the group’s goals.   When the collaborative leader’s goals collide with the group’s goals, the leader is very effective in conflict resolution because the leader works hard to uncover the motivations behind others’ positions.  Once uncovered, the leader is able to communicate the areas of common ground that helps the group shift from a win-lose perspective to a mutual win.  The characteristics mentioned in items one through six contribute to facilitating the solution.  That is why collaborative leaders are effective in negotiations and in facilitating conflict solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved.

8. Global perspective.

Collaborative leaders are able to see the big picture in great detail.  They are able to notice patterns and symbiotic relationships.  Therefore, as system thinkers, they understand that change at one level is tied to changes in others.  It is important to them that all people who are affected by decisions be included in change and problem solving efforts. 

9. Kind and compassionate

Collaborative leaders work hard in breaking down fear barriers between themselves and others.  They are self confident and secure in their relationships.  They understand that people they lead are free to grow and express their unique talents when fear is absent.  Being secure within themselves, the collaborative leader is kind even when confronting others and is responsive when discovering weakness. 

Collaborative leaders are skilled in relationship management.  Therefore working to help others work well together to achieve common goals requires a different skill set then telling people what to do and expecting them to do it.

For this reason, the six TIGERS collaborative principles of trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success help lay a strong foundation for collaborative leaders to succeed.