The role of a corporate leader is changing from a top-down approach to a team-centric approach. Close to half of Millennials see the role of a leader as inspiring others rather than dictating the direction of a company. To lead in an environment where employees are just as likely to huddle around the collaborative online whiteboard as they are the meeting room requires different skills than those you might traditionally associate with executive leadership. Here’s what it takes to motivate a team using online collaboration tools.
Any team needs a clear purpose to succeed; without a purpose, what is everyone working toward? A leader’s job is to understand the purpose, then tap into the shared sense of purpose to motivate workers.
Taking a collaborative approach toward overarching goals, a team leader can look at the skills and experience possessed by team members, then ask how everyone can contribute their skills to help everyone meet the goals. With a collaborative approach, it isn’t about any one individual standing out but about the team as an entity rising to new levels.
Communication is important in every organization, but the hallmark of collaborative leadership is maintaining open lines of communication at every level. No one on the team should feel like they can’t voice an idea or talk to a leader about their work, yet all too often in hierarchical organizations, employees feel as though they must stick to the chain of command.
To encourage open communication, change the way you approach conversations. Ask employees about personal matters or hobbies; showing you care creates collegiality and fosters openness about professional tasks. Pose open-ended questions that invite responses beyond yes or no; praise people for contributing to group brainstorms. If someone communicates news you don’t like, avoid getting upset or blaming them–this will shut down future attempts to communicate openly.
Empower Employees to Contribute
Especially in organizations that are shifting cultures from a more hierarchical culture to an open, collaborative culture, leaders may need to empower employees to change the way they’ve been contributing.
It can be difficult to empower others — you may encourage an individual to take ownership over a task or process, but some leaders find it difficult to loosen the reins and some employees are hesitant to assume control. Empowerment starts by encouraging solutions-oriented behavior and communicating clearly who has ownership over a particular task. So for example, you might tell an employee they have ownership over sending out a monthly email newsletter and provide a deadline by which this must be done. The employee then needs to figure out what’s needed from other departments to prepare the newsletter, then follow up with colleagues as necessary. Empowering someone for a simple task like this is the necessary first step to empowerment on a larger level, so start by giving employees ownership of small tasks until they become accustomed to added responsibilities.
Traditional workplaces tend to suffer from silo syndrome, in which individual departments are experts in their domain but don’t really know what’s happening across the hall. Silos may develop naturally, but they hamper collaborative efforts and block open communication. Teams may speak in different languages due to Industry jargon, which adds additional challenges to group collaboration. Due to the communication gap, silos tend to create high amounts of overlap between roles or processes. Stepping back and taking a collaborative approach highlights the repetition inherent in existing processes.
Elon Musk has spoken out about the ways that departmental silos hamper effective communication and erect barriers to effective work. Musk notes how hierarchies of communication create bottlenecks and serve management at the expense of the company. Musk’s solution is to put the responsibility on juniors rather than management–effectively asking lower-level employees to be the squeaky wheel until problems are addressed!
Start to break down silos by sharing information transparently whenever possible. A sharing approach boosts motivation and employee engagement (since people feel connected when they know what is going on within the organization) and provides a common understanding that serves as the basis for collaboration.
Information sharing broadens leadership from the higher format to a horizontal format, while also increase in trust within the organization. In addition to fostering collaboration, there are many benefits to be gained from this, such as increased productivity, greater collegiality, and a sense of belonging.
Encourage New Ideas
As a leader, you may believe that you are open to new ideas, but do you really encourage out-of-the-box thinking from your team? If people are afraid to contribute ideas or feel like they’ve contributed suggestions in the past but were not heard, they will naturally be reluctant to contribute again. Whether you are taking over leadership of a team or shifting models into a virtual collaboration, it’s important to ask yourself what you are doing to encourage new ideas from all members of the team. Investing in trust-building, collegiality, and empowerment lays the groundwork for encouraging new ideas because employees will be more likely to share when they feel visible and valuable.
This could be as simple as asking for thoughts, then staying silent and encouraging conversation and debate. Some leaders may find it helpful to offer a number of channels for sharing ideas because some employees prefer to write out their ideas rather than speak and introverted employees might not like being put on the spot in a meeting but would happily come up with a half-dozen ideas out of the spotlight. Maintaining a central resource where ideas are organized, such as a virtual whiteboard, helps the team stay organized.
All of these skills should work in harmony to change the corporate culture. So you might empower an employee, then praise that team member in front of peers (modeling open communication skills and motivating good work). Empowerment, motivation, and communication thus all work together to boost collaboration virtually or face to face.
Whether it’s in adjusting to a new leadership style or learning the features offered in an app for online whiteboard collaboration, leadership skills development is a process. Commit to the process with the spirit of learning as you go and adapting to challenges as they arise and the team will find success.