Should Leadership Inspire Collaboration Or Conflict Inside Your Organization?

Tanveer Naseer
3 measures every leader should be implementing to ensure they are promoting collaboration and not conflict within their organization.

Every day it seems to get harder and harder to find a topic or subject that hasn’t turned into a divisive issue, separating people into the proverbial us vs. them camps. Whether it’s on the news or even in our various social media channels, there seems to be more emphasis on what’s divides us than on what we share in common.

While it’s easy for us to dismiss this tendency as being the norm around issues pertaining to politics, social issues, or even sports, the truth is this growing tendency to narrow our perspective in terms of who we share a sense of alignment and belonging with is something leaders in all industries should be paying attention to. After all, most of us are familiar with the ease with which organizational silos can take hold within our workplaces, where teams and departments avoid sharing information and resources, mirroring that very us vs. them mindset mentioned above.

So with this growing tendency for people to self-select who belongs in their in-group and who doesn’t, it’s important for leaders to ensure what their communicating and demonstrating through their leadership evokes collaboration instead of conflict, especially as many of us continue to work remotely and consequently are relying on virtual communication channels to stay connected and invested.

With this in mind, here are 3 steps you can take to ensure your leadership inspires collaboration instead of conflict between the various teams and departments in your organization.

1. Emphasize your organization’s shared purpose or vision

One of the many conflicts we’ve seen surface in various European countries and the US over the COVID-19 pandemic is the growing division over wearing masks and following various restrictions meant to stem the growing tide of infections in these countries.

Conversely, we’ve seen New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern succeed in eradicating any signs of the virus by imposing similar, if not harsher, restrictions in her country. Key to New Zealand’s positive outcome has been Ardern’s ability to persuade her fellow Kiwis to accept the restrictions she imposed on their nation to not only protect the most vulnerable in their community, but to also stop the spread of COVID-19 in their country.

By reminding her fellow Kiwis of their shared purpose, of who they are and what they can accomplish, she was able to get that much needed collaboration from her constituents to not only accept these restrictions, but to stay the course until their country was completely free of the virus.

Her success compared to the failures of so many other leaders dealing with the exact same predicament illustrates an important lesson about how leaders can ensure they’re creating conditions that avoid this divisive us vs. them mentality.

Namely, that one of the critical roles for today’s leader is to communicate and exemplify an idea or purpose that unites people to dedicate their best efforts to make that vision a reality

2. Communicate often, but also on a personal level

With many of us now working from home and the realization that this will be the new way of work for the majority of your employees going forward, leaders need to ensure they’re creating a virtual environment that promotes and nurtures a personal connection amongst employees that will remind them we’re all in this together.

One of the ways you can accomplish this is to make sure that your virtual meetings do not simply revolve around work-related matters, but are also used to touch base with your employees.

For example, arrange virtual gatherings with employees from different teams/departments so employees can hear about how each of them is coping under the current conditions, what challenges they’ve recently encountered and hopefully overcame, and what fears and concerns they have about what’s going to happen next in light of recent developments both within and outside your organization.

Encouraging these kinds of honest and frank conversations not only allows employees from different teams/departments to better understand the unique challenges different groups have in your organization, but to also find that common ground that’s necessary to ensure they see one another as partners and not competitors.

3. Create opportunities for shared learning

One of the biggest drivers behind the growing polarization we’re seeing on so many issues is a lack of interest to listen to one another, as well as seek opportunities where we might learn and understand about people’s unique experiences.

A major challenge that’s arisen from the current need for remote working is that it limits our exposure to people who can provide us with insights and even a challenging perspective that can help us better understand how others view a problem.

Perhaps one of the best known and most successful organizations that understands the importance of this is Pixar Animation. The leaders at Pixar understand that what drives creativity and innovation is not to limit people’s contributions based on what team, department or even title they hold. On the contrary, they firmly believe that encouraging people to share their insights and experiences has been critical to their unparalleled success.

Similarly, it’s important that you create a psychologically safe environment where people not only feel included and welcomed, but where they’re encouraged to share their expertise and experiences with other employees to help them gain better insights on what’s really needed to address a current problem or successfully explore an untapped opportunity.

While writing this piece, I was reminded of this quote from Nelson Mandela:

“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.”

Without question, one of the most damaging aspects of this growing us vs. them mindset is that it leads people to assign blame on others for whatever problems stand before us. And yet as this quote from Mandela points out, it’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure that every problem, every issue is treated as an opportunity not to highlight our differences, but to emphasize our commonalities

If you truly want to encourage all of your employees to deliver their best, then you need to ensure your leadership inspires collaboration instead of conflict by making sure this us vs. them mindset doesn’t take hold within your organization. It’s not only what’s required to ensure your organization’s long term growth and success, but it’s what we need from those in leadership positions if we are to overcome the challenges we collectively face today.

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