Unlock the competitive advantage of collaboration

A person holding a trophy


As a mediator and conflict resolution specialist with the IRS and others, I have witnessed the disadvantage of not promoting collaboration. On the other hand, I have consistently seen its benefits. Inclusive leaders look for and celebrate ideas and concepts that build teams and psychologically safe workplaces.  We all win when the best ideas are adopted after considering the relevant information, allowing key stakeholders to react to it, deciding on the best alternative, and implementing it as a team.  The following commentary provides insights on how to take actionable steps to incorporate collaboration.


Promote authentic communication


Open, honest communication is the first step in developing a collaborative environment. Create a space where others realize they can be open and share their ideas freely and honestly.

  1. Instead of providing feedback, provide feedforward: " What are we going to do together going forward?”
  2. Ensure no negative repercussions exist for those willing to share their ideas. 
  3. Use “I” statements instead of you statements to reduce defensiveness.
  4. Encourage candid dialogue to air out alternatives and explore ideas based on the merits of the ideas. 
  5. Clearly define the problem and obtain relevant information.
  6. React to the information (How do you and other stakeholders react to the information?) professionally
  7. Develop a series of alternatives. 
  8. Determine the impact of the alternatives (economically, socially, environmentally).
  9. Evaluate the impacts (economically, socially, environmentally
  10. Select the best alternative or hybrid alternative.

Consider testing it and, when ready, implement the solution. Others will see the benefits of this approach.


Make inclusive decision-making a standard practice


Recently, I was working with a very top-down autocratic style of management. Morale was low, frustration and anger loomed, and many employees considered leaving.  Team members indicated they had not been appreciated for over six months, were not part of the decision-making, and it seemed no one was listening.  A scribe collected four typed pages of what was working well (1/2 page), what was not working well (2 ½ pages), and what needed to change (1/2 page). Leadership realized they needed to change by sharing this with management and working with management.

They decided to promote a more collaborative style of leadership, which is beginning now.

They agreed to meet with all employees and listen. They decided to promote appreciation and a stronger sense of community. They aimed to develop a relationship where everyone would feel a sense of ownership and belonging.


Encourage diverse ideas


The organization has seasoned, excellent technical employees, but their expertise was being micromanaged. They felt they had lost control of their decision-making. The owner was a micromanaging employee. The front-line manager had not had any leadership or managerial training.

In the future, emphasis will be placed on inviting questions and developing opportunities to share opinions with a facilitator.

 This is a work in progress. However, having been involved in this in other venues, taking these next steps, following up, ensuring open communication, reacting appropriately to that information, and including team members in decision-making going forward is an excellent step in the right direction.


Be open, be humble, be vulnerable


The secret to being a great leader is to seek help when needed. Demonstrating vulnerability when needed shows others in your organization that everyone needs to be open, humble, and vulnerable.

You don’t have to have all the answers.

You do need to reach out to others for help.  Be empathetic, be curious, ask open-ended questions, and then take the time to listen actively.  Demonstrate your self-awareness. This is essential for building trust. By being consistent, demonstrating compassion, and wanting to improve, others will see your competency and emulate your leadership style.


Unlocking  Collaboration


Unlocking collaboration doesn’t just happen. Promoting authentic, connecting relationships requires effort, as does learning what you can about others to enhance trust and understanding.

By applying active listening with an emphasis on understanding, it is possible to learn more and unleash greater understanding.

Take the time (at least 10 minutes)  to paraphrase, summarize, empathize, and ask additional open-ended questions. As you gain further insights, continue to emphasize open communication, promote inclusive decision-making, encourage other’s ideas, and demonstrate your humility and be vulnerable.  




 Developing relationships with others by being positive, open, honest, and collaborative is central to building trust. Ten ideas are presented in bullet form to help you promote understanding and work collectively to address a concern. Move away from historical autocratic management to a more inclusive management style to promote understanding. Please encourage others to offer ideas and appreciate those willing to take the risk to offer them. Realize you don’t have all the answers and ask others for help. This demonstrates vulnerability and your openness to others’ ideas.  Lead with compassion and listen with empathy as you navigate in this space.

Check out these links if you need assistance, want to learn more about collaboration and conflict  resolution, or want to enhance your Servant Manager skills

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]