Watching his employees use a new social technology, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, had an epiphany. His company had developed Chatter, a Facebook inspired application for companies that allows users to keep track of their colleagues and customers and share information and ideas. The employees had been trying it out internally, not just within their own work groups but across the entire organization. As Benioff read the Chatter posts, he realized that many of the people who had critical customer knowledge and were adding the most value were not even known to the management team.
Social media and technologies have put connectivity on steroids and made collaboration more integral to business than ever. But without the right leadership, collaboration can go astray. Employees who try to collaborate on everything may wind up stuck in endless meetings, struggling to reach agreement. On the other side of the coin, executives who came of age during the heyday of “command and control” management can have trouble adjusting their style to fit the new realities.
In their research on top-performing CEOs, Insead professors Ibarra and Hansen have examined what it takes to be a collaborative leader. They’ve found that it requires connecting people and ideas outside an organization to those inside it, leveraging diverse talent, modeling collaborative behavior at the top, and showing a strong hand to keep teams from getting mired in debate. In this article, they describe tactics that executives from Akamai, GE, Reckitt Benckiser, and other firms use in those four areas and how they foster high-performance collaborative cultures in their organizations.