Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Create collaboration opportunities, part of Executive Leadership.
- On January 15th, 2009 US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport. As it started to climb suddenly both engines were disabled. Pilot Chesley Sullenburger turned the plane told the passengers, "Brace for impact," and executed a flawless emergency landing in the Hudson River. Sullenburger checked the passenger cabin twice to ensure everyone was evacuated before being the last to leave the aircraft. Despite the crash landing and freezing temperatures incredibly all 155 passengers and crew survived.
Sullenburger was widely and rightly praised but his interpretation was different from how he was portrayed in the media, as a solo heroic figure. He said those 208 seconds, from takeoff to crash, were the defining moment of his 42 year career. It tested everything he learned and he never saw it coming. The key to success, collaboration. When people focused on him, he emphasized how he and his copilot were together. We were a team.
In interviews he consistently praised the cabin crew whose collaboration, he emphasized, as essential to everyone surviving the crash. When he got an invitation from U.S. President elect Obama to meet for dinner he insisted that the whole crew be invited too, and they were. For leaders like Sullenburger, collaboration isn't a technique, it's a truth. It's a deeply held belief about what's crucial for leadership success. The best executive leaders obsess about how to get people to work together effectively at all levels of the organization.
I've been in countless organizational talent reviews, succession plans, and promotions discussions. Thinking and contributing beyond one's role is what senior leaders are looking for in future senior leaders. How can you create more collaboration? Here's what to do. One, reach out to people beyond your direct tasks ask about their priorities, offer to help, and then follow through. You'll stand out in a positive way and set an example showing others how to do it, by doing it. Two, take initiative to reach out to your key peers routinely and ask for feedback and suggestions about how you collaborate.
Say, "It's important to me that we work well together." "What's going well, and what else do you need from me?" Three, offer to work on cross-functional initiatives. Four, communicate the importance of collaboration consistently and highlight great examples of people doing it. Five, structure collaborative objectives and incentives and reward it. For example, as part of performance evaluations, promotions, project opportunities, compensation, and recognition. One CEO I coached administers employee engagement surveys each year, to everyone in the firm, asking for thorough anonymous input on what's going well and what isn't.
He publishes the results for everyone to see. Then he puts a cross-functional collaborative team together and empowers them to choose the most important improvement priorities. After that, cross-functional teams are formed to work collaboratively on those priorities. Then report the results to the whole organization and it's measured in the next survey. Notice the multi-layered, structured, constant commitment to collaboration. Six, also look for ad-hoc opportunities to encourage people to work together across boundaries in the organization.
Here's an example, a CEO I coached had recently taken charge of a services firm. In a media interview he was asked an unusual question. What popular song best characterizes your firm? Now, despite being entirely out of touch on current popular music. He didn't deflect the question but saw it as a collaboration opportunity. He started a contest in his firm with a reward for the team that came up with the best song and reasons for choosing it. Entries were visible to the whole organization. More evidence of collaboration.
Then he put together a panel of judges, a collaborative group representing different parts of the organization. Then he over delivered on the award for multiple teams and recognized them at an annual event where their songs were played and they spoke about their entries. Now remember all of this arose from a random question he could have easily avoided answering but he saw the opportunity to send multiple messages in an upbeat, energizing way. That we all win by working together. It was true for him, it was true for Captain Sullenburger, and as an executive leader it's true for you too.
You win, your teams win, and your organization wins, when you collaborate well and help others do it too.
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- Understanding the four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.