Collaboration is more than a fad or a cliché. It is how some companies are now leading their people. But we are only at the beginning of a New Age of Collaboration. High control leadership still has quite a grip on business culture. Some companies now have competing cultures internally—command and control, as well as transactional and collaborative. It all depends on the leader’s style. To complicate things, there are different definitions of what it means to “collaborate”. Some see it as emailing each other; for others it’s working in Google Hangouts. Still others see collaboration as a leadership culture based on a core set of principles that enervate the entire company. Also, some see collaborative decisions as meaning 80% agree, while others see it as meaning 100% consensus on strategic decisions. We have some work to do. So it will take some time for collaborative leadership cultures to be the primary way we work.
But we have little choice but to speed up the process, because there are at least four macro-challenges we face that impact the survival of our businesses:
- Disruptions: We work in a volatile, global marketplace, where disruptive technologies transform industries overnight; disruptive business models or strategies can render current models obsolete. Agility and speed are key—there is no time to run decisions up the chain of command. Collaborative processes ensure internal alignment, ownership, and accountability that enable both
- Diversity: We increasingly work in a diverse workspace. 70% of my engineering students at Duke are from around the world. California is now a “majority-minority” state; Demographics now drive culture. Collaboration is a cultural framework of mutual respect, tolerance, and engagement that embraces and celebrates our differences, enabling us to work together seamlessly
- Millennials: They will be 60% of the workforce by 2030. They grew up working collaboratively in school, and bring that expectation to the workplace. Leadership cultures that are closed, control-based, or passive-aggressive will only alienate them. They have options and will exercise them. Collaborative cultures honor their need for transparency, emotional intelligence, and high engagement
- Existential Threats: By 2050, there may be 12 billion people on a planet that can only support half that number. Resource limitations will result in conflicts. The UN projects climate change, if not checked by 2030, will result in 6’ of sea-level rise affecting millions living on coasts around the world; climate refugees, intensified storms, droughts, fires, and heat waves. Nuclear proliferation remains an existential threat. Collaborative leadership initiatives, like the Paris Climate Accord, can put the collective survival of the world ahead of competitive national self-interest
In this New Age of Collaboration, we will lead based on the principles of trust, integrity, mutual respect, ownership, alignment, responsibility, and self-accountability. We will put the collective interests of our workforces and our world ahead of our own egos and national interests. We will engage our workforces in owning the culture, vision, mission, and strategic direction of the company. We will create workplaces fit for the human spirit.
The next hundred years will be the New Age of Collaboration. We have a lot of work to do, and many behaviors to change, but the journey is not only worth the climb, but it is essential to our survival.
*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919)265-9616