Collaboration is Key

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Top-flight leaders understand that winning teams know how to handle assignments flexibly and collaboratively. But it’s up to the leader to build that muscle in the team.

There are essentially two types of teams: Those where every player knows their job and does it; and those where the players collaborate to get the work done without the need for specific assignments. The savvy leader seeks to build the latter team.

Why build a collaborative team rather than an assigned-role one? For starters, there’s only so much any one person can accomplish on their own. In an assigned-role team, when someone leaves, either permanently or temporarily, somebody has to pick up the slack. And that someone may never have performed that role.

Assigned-role teams tend to develop stars and star supporters. In a cohesive team, success is dependent upon no one person. Of course, workers are not created equally. But when team members depend upon each other to achieve the team’s goal, everyone’s abilities are enhanced. In assigned-role teams, players are more concerned about doing their jobs well than how others perform. Cohesive teams pursue shared success. They problem-solve together, so the process and end product benefit from group thinking.

I think you get the picture.

But how does the leader create a cohesive, collaborative team? First, the leader sets the expectation that the work will be done in that way. Then the leader assigns tasks to the group, in group sessions–not individually. Basically, you outline the problem to be solved, and then tell the team to figure out the solution among themselves.

For new teams, this may cause initial confusion. People used to role performance may feel threatened. You may hear some say, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” But you’re creating a team of problem solvers, not order takers. You want people who share accountability for the group’s performance. You want them to be able to assign tasks among themselves and pool their entire shared knowledge.

Then, when a course correction is needed, you won’t have anyone saying, “Hey, I did my job. This new direction is someone else’s problem.” Instead, they’ll put their heads together and figure it out.

Take as an example a small marketing firm. The leader creates an events-planning team consisting of four people. Makes sense: the main tasks are venue/decor, program/entertainment, menu, and printed materials. Sure, the leader could assign one task to each team member in four separate meetings, and then track their progress individually. Rather, this leader gathers the team for one planning meeting and tells them to divvy up the work among themselves as they see fit.

End result: You build skills across your team, you give them ownership of the project, they learn who can do what within the team, and you can spend more time overseeing higher-level aspects of the event as the team moves forward. As a bonus, you get to watch as future leaders emerge organically within the team structure.

None of this is to say that you as the leader get to delegate responsibility for the end product. You’re still the boss, the place where the buck stops. But if you hire good people and coach them well, it only makes sense to let them take the lead in getting the work done.