How to Lead a Collaborative Team

Team Building and Collaboration at the Center for Creative Leadership

3 Keys for Better Team-Building and Collaboration

What do you do when teamwork doesn’t work?

Your organization can’t afford the depletion of energy, the loss of productivity, or the drain on the bottom line. The solution is improving team collaboration — which may seem impossible if your team is struggling.

Collaboration is about accountability and creating an ownership culture. If you want your team to perform better, the members need to take care of it. People take care of what they own.

Building a collaborative team requires the team leader to:

  • address what isn’t working,
  • view trust as a must-have resource, and
  • insist on behaviors that support collaborative principles.

Here’s how to put these team-building and collaboration principles to work.

First, understand why teams often don’t work. The list is long but probably not surprising, including:

  • The history of the team,
  • Poor relationships,
  • Ineffective meetings,
  • Little transparency or inadequate sharing of information,
  • No team governance processes,
  • Conflicting styles of decision-making,
  • Behind-the-scenes conversations and processes,
  • Competition,
  • Turf wars, and
  • Poor ownership or engagement among team members.

Your team will not be effective as long as these are the team dynamics. Take a good look at what’s going on in your team and diagnose what isn’t working. Better yet, get team members to look at what’s going on and start to think about how true collaboration would replace or resolve their problems.

Second, commit to building trust. Trust is critical for team success and is the foundation of a collaborative culture throughout an organization.

Many of the reasons that teams don’t work — see above — are tied to lack of trust and psychological safety. Without trust, people operate out of fear.

Trust is the tie that binds — people will subordinate their own self interests for the good of the whole and give team collaboration everything they’ve got. As a result, teams gain productive energy, creativity, speed, and better results.

Bear in mind, however, that trust can’t be trained into a team. It takes a leader who’s willing to show integrity, change behavior, and take on the hard work of collaborating across boundaries and dealing with differences.

Third, operate on agreed-upon principles. Lead a team based on shared principles and values (like accountability, mutual respect, integrity, etc.) rather than structures, politics, or personality.

Your job as a team leader is to help the team turn the team’s values into agreed-upon behaviors, formalizing them by establishing them as team norms, and by setting up a team charter. These become the team’s operating agreements — conscious choices that everyone on the team agrees to. They are the foundation for mutual trust, respect, accountability, and high performance.

When team leaders don’t value and support collaboration, they’re undermining their teams and sub-optimizing performance. In contrast, when teams embrace an effective governance system and leaders commit to a culture of trust and collaboration, the building blocks are in place for success.

What Are the Benefits of Team-Building and Collaboration?

As explained in Transforming the Way We Work: The Power of the Collaborative Workplace by Edward M. Marshall, there are many organizational benefits to team collaboration:

  • Organizations collaborate internally to compete externally.
  • Decisions are faster, of higher quality, and customer-driven.
  • Decisions are made on the basis of principle rather than power or personality, resulting in greater buy-in and impact.
  • Cycle time is substantially reduced and non-value-adding work eliminated.
  • The productive capacity of the workforce doubles.
  • Strategic alliances succeed while building trust and producing extraordinary results.
  • Return on investment increases dramatically.
  • The span of control increases substantially.
  • The workforce takes on full responsibility for the success of the enterprise.
  • Conflict is reduced as work relationships open up and build trust.
  • The fear is gone — change is seen as a positive opportunity.

All these reasons show the business case for investing in more effective team-building and collaboration at your organization.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with your organization to help you strengthen team-building and collaboration with our team development services and solutions.


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December 20, 2020
by Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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