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Leading the Employee to Work Collaboratively

Getting employees to enter a collaborative mode of functioning, rather than viewing work as a series of tasks performed for the employer, begins with two things. First, the manager must develop a genuine relationship with the employee to open a collaborative process, and second, the employee must perceive ‘ownership’ of tasks.

Leading the employee to work collaborativelyThe manager must create a relationship where he/she is viewed by the employee as trustworthy

Building a collaborative environment and asking employees to ‘think outside the box’ and actually come up with ideas that benefit the organization requires management that is trusted by employees for rewards, as well as for occasional help.

Trust is bred by consistent patterns of behavior and demonstrations of achievement or subject expertise. Keep in mind that by ‘consistent patterns of behavior’ the erratic or eccentric is not ruled out. A scientist who consistently and often forgets his lunch, or becomes known for veering off topic during conversations can still exhibit consistent behavior that makes him/her trustable in the eyes of employees.

The basis of trust is fair dealing and honest exchange of views, and on top of that, if a manager can establish himself/herself as approachable and one who stands up for employees – workplace trust is built.

Partnership behavior is the key

To create an environment of true employer-employee collaboration, much depends upon the manager, and how he/she handles the situation.

The manager leads by demonstrating partnership behaviors, and emphasizing mutual success or win-win outcomes to the employee. The manager needs to provide logical and acceptable answers to the following questions:
  • How would changes in work pattern benefit the employee both in the short and long term?
  • How would changes in work pattern help the employee to achieve his goals and career objectives?
Similarly, the manager should seek answers to the following question from the employee:
  • Does the employee know of a better method to achieving common objectives than what the manager is proposing?
And collaboration begins when the manager asks the employee to seek along with the manager, whether there is a third way, beyond those already explored and originating from the manager and the employee, by which both personal and organizational objectives might be achieved. This is the key step to building collaboration by sharing ownership of a goal. Even though the end-result may not be the selection of any method other than that already offered by the employer, collaborative conversation and partnership behavior establishes a collaborative environment in work.

The benefit of a collaborative environment is that managers and employees essentially share partnership relationships and create work processes that draw upon complementary knowledge, skills, and expertise. An obvious outcome of a collaborative environment is the creation of common processes, vocabulary (jargon) and communication enhancement. It makes accomplishing goals and teamwork far easier than a situation where the manager generates orders and the employee just focuses on fulfilling demands raised by the manager.

Good managers take great care to build a partnership relationship with those directly under them and always try to build collaborative environments.


Nannette Rundle Carroll, The Communication Problem Solver: Simple Tools and Techniques for Busy Managers (New York: American Management Association, 2010)