The Pros & Cons of Collaboration: Who Should Help CEOs Make Decisions?
By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
We generally think of collaboration as a good thing. People working together to solve problems or move forward with new ideas is a positive structure that we learn from an early age. At its best, collaboration yields great results in many aspects of our society.
Accordingly, the business world has shifted to a more collaborative format than in past decades. The old “command and control” leadership model is fading, and many CEOs now invite talented senior staff members to join in their decision-making processes.
But as numerous leaders have experienced, too much collaboration can hinder progress or even push things backward. As a result, what was intended as an inclusive and progressive exercise can backfire and lead to the frustration of everyone involved.
CEOs who have experienced over-collaboration woes are often tempted to forgo asking others’ opinions at all. But collaboration isn’t an all-or-nothing exercise in leadership. The topic is much more nuanced than that, and it involves careful consideration of:
- Who should be part of the process
- Why others should be involved
- When to pull others in
- How to involve others
The Who, Why, When, and How of Collaboration for CEOs
As leaders consider inviting others to participate in their decision-making process, CultureWise CEO David J. Friedman suggests a targeted approach. “Each situation is different,” he advises. “The key is to look at the goal of the decision, and then assess what kind of collaboration, if any, would be helpful.”
Who Should Be Part of the Collaborative Process?
One benefit of having a talented team is that they all bring great ideas to the table. And when the situation warrants others’ input, multiple viewpoints can enrich and clarify a CEO’s thinking and decision-making capabilities. Leaders should also factor in the scope and level of a decision as they decide which team members to include.
A team vote is appropriate for a low-level decision that affects everyone, like where to hold the annual holiday party. However, leaders should be more strategic about changes in specific areas of a business. Input from people with “boots on the ground” in that department is invaluable, but those without context may complicate the process.
CEOs may want to consult a few C-suite executives when a decision involves strategy or direction. But when it comes to defining the overarching vision for a company, the CEO alone owns that responsibility. Vision is not a group-think project.
Why Others Should Be Involved in a Decision
The first question leaders should ask themselves is whether collaboration will create a better outcome or improve the implementation of a decision. For example, CEOs should reel in other peoples’ opinions if they have more information or experience in an area. In other situations, getting more people involved in the decision will increase buy-in and therefore make the execution more successful.
But CEOs shouldn’t automatically involve others as they make up their minds. Instead, as Michael Mankins points out in Harvard Business Review, they need to be aware of the dangers of collaboration overload as leadership patterns evolve. He explains that “left unchecked, calls for greater collaboration can lead to a culture of ‘collaboration for collaboration’s sake,’” which can paralyze an organization and frustrate team members.
When CEOs Should Pull Others In
Another important consideration for leaders is determining the appropriate time to ask for collaborative decision-making. In some cases, gathering input at the beginning of the process might help a CEO shape their point of view about how to approach a topic. For example, early collaboration about creating the criteria for an awards program or expanding a product line would be advantageous.
In other situations, leaders might postpone collaboration until after choosing a course of action and then enlisting others to help finesse the fine points.
However, CEOs shouldn’t include employees’ input on an action they’re contemplating but may never carry out. Gathering opinions about a hypothetical change just to get a reaction can generate negative rumors and speculation.
How to Include Others
Leaders must articulate the goal when they pull others into their decision-making process. For example, in some cases, the CEO may relay that they’re open to a majority vote on a topic. In others, they may want to discuss the options with team members and build a consensus to get people aligned about a specific point of view.
And if the leader intends to make a decision alone and is simply gathering ideas from his team, they need to make this clear from the start. If they’re open about the process, their staff will understand and offer opinions with the knowledge that they don’t have a vote on the topic. But when leaders aren’t clear about their intentions and team members discover they were only a sounding board, they will become disenfranchised.
Case Study—Building Your Company’s Culture
Some of a CEO’s most crucial decisions involve forming their company’s culture. It’s incumbent upon them to build the kind of culture that will help their business thrive—not just allow one to evolve by default. Nothing influences an organization’s level of success more than the people who work there.
As David Friedman explains in his book, Culture by Design, the first step in developing the right culture is for the leader to decide which behaviors they want their team to routinely exhibit as they work, collaborate, and interface with the public.
Many CEOs delegate mapping out their company’s culture or pull together a committee to help them with the task. But that’s a mistake, Friedman says, because at its core, defining the culture is a leader’s responsibility.
“I often call this a ‘design function.’ We’re designing the extraordinary company that we want to create. We’re not designing it around the wishes or desires of all the people who we coincidently employ today. Rather, we’re designing it around our vision of what we want to build.”
Friedman advocates including the senior leadership team in the process. But he recommends consulting them for their contribution to the CEO’s thinking—not in making final decisions.
He says the key for leaders is to identify the behaviors they most value. To do this, he advises them to reflect on:
- What are the things that, if done more consistently, would make their company amazing?
- What are the things that they often “rant” about?
- What are the things that drive them crazy when they see them happening? What would the opposite of those things look like?
- Who are the team members they wish others were more like? What do they do that makes them stand out?
The goal in answering these questions is to capture a personally meaningful and authentic set of behaviors that will be the basis to build and drive a sustainable culture. They spring from the leader’s passion for how their business should operate. The decision is theirs alone.
Deciding to Build a Better Culture
Committing to shaping and improving their company’s culture is one of a CEO’s most important decisions. It can seem daunting because the consequences are significant, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavor.
CultureWise offers a process to develop organizational culture based on a leader’s vision for their company. Then we provide the resources and technology for a culture initiative that will systematically bring a leader’s ideas to life.
Find out why CEOs across North America say investing in CultureWise is the best decision they’ve ever made. Then book a call with a CultureWise specialist to discover what it can do for your company. And don’t forget to sign up for a free subscription to Culture Matters for all the latest news about culture in the workplace.