Being a collaborative leader does not begin with your customers. It begins with the team you work with. In customer experience, working with customers means you have to build a high trust relationship with them. It is essential to build customer relationships from collaborative intention by really engaging as a collaborative leader.
This includes actively listening to customers and creating a partnership where you serve them by providing products and services that cater to their needs and provide value.
In one of my Fast Leader Show episodes with Dr. Edward Marshall of Duke University, titled What Is Collaborative Leadership and How to Apply It In Customer Experience? We discuss the importance of collaborative relationships. Be it with your team or your customers, collaboration creates ethical and trust-based relationships with the people you work with and your customers.
Not only do you have to build trust, but you also have to align what you offer with the customer’s expectations. You have to ensure that you have a process of communication, engagement, and accountability.
Collaboration also accelerates innovation in a relationship. When you include all these things in your customer experience strategy, there is more excellent psychological safety, which will result in more significant potential for risk-taking and, therefore, profitability for your business.
As I said earlier, collaboration starts with your team. As a collaborative leader, how can you build processes and systems that create an environment for collaboration among your team members?
Applying Collaborative Leadership in Delivering an Excellent Customer Experience
When it comes to collaboration, there are a lot of things humans can learn from geese. If you have noticed, geese always fly in formation. When they fly, the head goose takes the lead, and they honk at each other as they go. This honking is meant to encourage each other and support each other. They also fly in a V-formation because they are flying on the lift of other geese’s wings.
Geese have also shown to be 47% more productive, and they fly much faster because of that formation that allows them to work in synergy. When one of the geese gets injured, two geese fly down to ensure that the injured one is well cared for. Their leadership is also rotated. When the head goose is tired, they all fall back from the formation, and another goose takes the lead.
This shows that leadership is not about one person taking the lead all the time. If birds understand that the facilitator’s responsibility within the group needs to be rotated, humans can surely do the same. This allows everyone to lead and listen to encourage and facilitate the group to come up with results.
The History of 3 Leadership Evolutions and What You Can Learn As an Aspiring Collaborative Leader
In the 20th century, around 1910 and 1920, Frederick Winslow Taylor was an industrial engineer known for moving around the factory with a clipboard and a stopwatch. He measured what people were doing and how long it took them to do it. From this, he developed a theory of scientific management.
The scientific management approach assumed that workers were indolent and lazy. It assumed that they really didn’t want to be there, and they had to be invented or punished to get them to work well.
This eventually resulted in labor unions that were organized in the 1920s and 1930s. Workers wanted to be treated like human beings and less like machines.
This led to Douglas McGregor’s work in the 1960s called Theory X, and Theory Y. McGregor realized that there were anomalies in Taylor’s method. He realized that people are social creatures and prefer to work in teams and environments to interact. Because of this realization, he focused more on the psychological aspects of interpersonal relationships in an organization. He discovered that they were not lazy nor dumb. They were actually very responsible.
His work then resulted in Stephen Covey’s book in the 1990s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The evolution of leadership moved from power to people then to principles. You can not just lead by ordering and commanding people to do things. When you conduct this way, you cannot get the productive energy out of the workforce.
It is imperative to lead by principle. What do you need to be able to work better? How are you going to do this from a practical and applied standpoint?
Each team member has a natural gift that will help the team become as effective as possible. Everybody needs an opportunity to lead depending on their skill set and the situation at hand. We all have a gift to give, and we all want to succeed. With this in mind, we can build trust and respect for each other.
Collaboration and Collaborative Leadership is the Fourth Evolution
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is at an inflection and transformative point. There is no clear future as to how the pandemic will go and when it will end. This means you have to think about the economic consequences of many people losing jobs, homes, health benefits, and many other things. There are many woes at hand, including climate change.
The world is in desperate need of collaboration now more than ever. Instead of trying to solve all these problems at once, you can begin with what you can change today. What you can change today is customer relationships and relationships within your organization.
When you introduce collaboration in these areas, you begin to operate at a level of ethical and moral compass required to survive in these challenging times.
In most organizations today, there are still levels of hierarchy and all these silos where people do not get an opportunity to interact with each other. On top of that, we have politics within organizations. All these things will not go away easily.
At present, we have 65-75% of the global workforce being millennials and generation Z who do not like working in that kind of culture. There is a fundamental mismatch between where we are and where we would like to be. This theory of collaboration can help us transition in this critical moment from a power paradigm into a collaborative paradigm and help us learn the crucial behaviors of collaborative leaders.
The Journey to Becoming a Collaborative Leader and Building Team Collaboration
At the individual level, there is a collaborative leadership journey that requires you to make conscious choices to make a difference in your life and others’ lives. It is important to start teaching the next generation how to work with each other differently. In a study by Queens University, about 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important,”
Look at your own values, ethics, choices, and how you are going to lead. When you look at your team, think about your collaborative governance process. Most co-operate teams do not have a governance process. As a collaborative leader, you have to intervene and drive the process. Front-load your team with this governance process to create 100% true consensus.
There should be no reservation to ensure that every team member owns the agreement. When there are 100% true consensus and no reservations, you allow your team to work through their differences with each other. It’s not mainly about consensus. It’s about managing dissensus in your relationships as a team.
How do you manage disagreements and difficult conversations with each other?
This is how in this transformative moment, you can begin to create a sense of unity. Ensure that everyone is on the page and agrees with how you are doing things as a team. Continuously make your team believe that they are in this together.
According to McKinsey’s report, knowledge workers spend an average of 14% of their workweek communicating and collaborating internally. The study also showed that improving internal collaboration through social tools could raise interaction productivity by as much as 20 to 25 %.
In total, there are 14 different operating arrangements. Most teams require only 10, and if everyone agrees to them, there is no ‘I told you so’ attitude when things don’t work out as you intended. This kind of attitude can cause distrust within the team. Within 6-9 months, you will realize that you have not experienced the positive effects of collaborative leadership on your organizational performance.
It is crucial to teach the next generation the importance of collaboration. They are the ones who are going to create the transformation that the world really needs. The first step you need to make is helping people work across silos. We have a lot of barriers that we have created, and we have to break those barriers.
Teams that work in frontline operations get along because they understand that they have to, and they do not mind reaching across the barriers. As you move up the organization, the walls become firmer and firmer. There is a desperate need to protect and defend one’s territory, which is highly unnecessary. This also applies to your customers and your relationship with them.
Your relationship with them should not only be transactional. Talk to them, have them be a part of creating the product and services they will use. Let them be a part of creating the customer experience.
Collaboration drives workplace performance, and it needs to be a part of your work culture. It is vital to start practicing and putting systems in place for collaboration so that the transformation that the world needs begins to take place.
Watch My Interview With Edward Marshall
- What do you think are the most important qualities of a collaborative leader?
- Do you think collaboration is the answer to today’s problems worldwide, such as climate change?
- Are collaborative teams more effective than those that are not?
Jim Rembach is the Editor in Chief of the Customer Service Weekly and it’s Podcast host. He is President of CX Global Media and the creator of the Call Center Coach Virtual Leaders Academy. As the host of the Fast Leader Show Podcast, he has interviewed hundreds of experts, authors, academics, researchers, and practitioners on various angles, viewpoints, and perspectives for improving the customer experience. He has held positions in retail operations, contact centers, customer support, customer success, sales, and measured the customer experience. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence practitioner, Employee Retention Specialist, and recipient of numerous industry awards.