3 Ways to Lead More Collaboratively

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Justin Irving and Mark Strauss write that collaboration is an important factor contributing to effective leadership. Leading with humility, celebrating the contributions of others, and embracing the benefits of teamwork are three key principles vital to more successful organizational leadership.


Whether it is engaging a community with shared vision or embracing more team-oriented practices in your organization, fostering collaboration is an important factor contributing to effective leadership. As you consider your own collaborative processes, here are three quick principles we offer as you take the next step in your leadership journey.

1. Lead with humility.

Healthy collaboration begins with humility. In order to effectively collaborate with others, there needs to be an authentic belief that you do not have all the answers and that other people bring value to the table that complements you and the value you bring.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins engages the concept of Level 5 Leadership. Level 5 leaders possess a unique blend of professional will and personal humility. Although they are driven to get things done for the organizations they serve, their drive is accompanied with humility. Leaders possessing this humility are quick to acknowledge their own limitations and quick to celebrate the contributions of others. Such humility is vital for collaborative work to thrive in the face of tough organizational challenges.

2. Celebrate the contributions of others.

With a leader’s willingness to think of oneself less comes an increased capacity to see and celebrate the contributions of others. In order to foster authentic collaboration, leaders must first recognize the contributions of team members and then be willing to step back and provide space for team members to thrive in these contributions. Some describe this as the leader’s role of standing back. Standing back relates to a leader giving priority to the interests of others and then retreating into the background in order to see the success and contributions of others celebrated.

The concept of standing back presses this important question: Are you okay with your team members being smarter than you and better than you at something? Leadership driven by ego will struggle with this. However, through embracing humility and a willingness to stand back, the work of fostering collaboration provides a pathway for team members to become authentic partners in the mission of your organization. Take time in the week ahead to celebrate the significant contributions of your team members. Celebrate these partners who are serving in the shared mission of your organization.

3. Embrace what is better together.

When considering collaboration and the practice of teams, an African proverb captures the heart of teamwork: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” Engaging in collaborative teamwork is typically not the easiest or fastest approach, but we contend that it is the more effective option.

Teams are more helpful for bigger projects over a longer period of time. When  the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective approach. Although teamwork done well tends to take more time than working as an individual, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance. Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

Teams provide a context for better ideas and increased insight. Teams provide a context for idea generation and for increasing insight for complex problem solving. Teams provide a place for multiple perspectives to emerge, and teams facilitate creativity as members bounce new ideas off one another. Further, teams provide a context for more ideas to be generated so long as group think is proactively addressed.

Teams provide increased courage to face challenges. Being alone can be a challenge in calm organizational seasons but being alone can be a major challenge during turbulent organizational seasons. Teams provide a context for facing problems together and an esprit de corps — the feeling that we are in this together. Teams provide a context for the collective group taking bigger risks than individuals, because when we are in it together there is a courage that is infused into the group that most individuals do not experience in isolation. Together, teams are able to face challenges that feel too big for any one individual.

Teams provide a natural presence of peer support. Because teamwork is done with others, it provides the opportunity for increased peer support. Teams provide a context for improved morale because teams provide space for mutual encouragement among members. Teams also provide a context for support and mutual accountability — accountability that facilitates collaboration in working toward goal accomplishment on behalf of the group and organization.

Teams provide a context for mentoring and training. Teams provide a unique opportunity for organizations to develop younger or newer talents because the teams provide an organic environment for leadership development. Teams provide a natural context for modeling preferred organization behavior and a place for both formal and informal mentoring to occur. Rather than providing leadership development and mentoring as a side program, teams provide a natural environment in which emerging team members and leaders can observe and interact with tenured team members and leaders in the normal flow of work life. Teams provide a context for members to be valued, developed, and released as partner-contributors.

Whether working directly in the context of teams or bringing a spirit of collaboration to a variety of organizational structures, leaders who nurture an environment where team members work together rather than compete against one another are vital to effective organizational leadership. Fostering collaboration is a biblically consistent and research-based practice to engage authentic partners in the important mission.


Leadership in Christian Perspective book cover

Content taken from Leadership in Christian Perspective by Justin A. Irving and Mark L. Strauss © 2019. Used by permission of Baker Publishing. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Justin A. Irving is professor of ministry leadership and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Mark L. Strauss is University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.


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