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Collaborative Leadership

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision

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In today’s complex world, with an increasingly diverse workforce and burgeoning ranks of millennial employees, old “command and control” or top-down models of leadership are progressively seen as out-of-date and ineffective. Shared or collaborative leadership is a framework that empowers all key organizational roles to appropriately engage in decision-making, contribute knowledge and expertise, and lead the organization to its most effective outcomes.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. . . . It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

Andrew Carnegie

Collaborative leadership is not built solely on written policies and procedures. It involves creating a culture of trust, transparency, shared accountability and a common vision for an organization’s mission and direction.

In order for a nonprofit to implement this model, it must have:

  • Clearly identified processes around communication.
  • A strong commitment to building connections among staff, executives and board members.
  • An organizational culture that encourages and promotes the open exchange of ideas, critiques and calculated risks.

The ABC's of Collaborative Leadership

ASSESS – Your Current Infrastructure

Gather information and pave the way for a new direction.

BUILD – Your New Model

Identify ways to build on what works and open space for board and staff to share ideas, responsibilities and ownership.


Establish strong communication processes, vehicles and messaging.

DEFINE - Roles, Culture and Expectations

Clarify responsibilities, processes, accountability measures and vision.

ENGAGE – Everyone

Reinforce collaboration and awareness of how each individual contributes to shared success.

Assess Your Current Infrastructure

  • Confirm that key leaders are open to feedback and suggestions for change.
  • Understand how decisions are currently made, who the decision-makers are and how each role’s voice is represented in the process.
  • Examine existing channels of communication between board and executive leadership, board and staff, and staff and leadership.
  • Determine whether there are clear role descriptions and an understanding of those roles by all parties.
  • Evaluate whether board members clearly understand their fiduciary responsibilities.

Build Your New Model

  • Locate resources to understand how to develop a model that will best fit the organization.
  • Establish processes and procedures to facilitate the growth of this new framework.
  • Identify opportunities for building rapport and team spirit internally.
  • Work to create and reinforce a culture of open sharing of opinions and information without fear of backlash.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

  • Establish regular communication channels and processes.
  • Provide information in a range of formats and availability (for example, in-person meetings, written policies, and internal newsletters, intranets or shared files).
  • Consider appointing a communications champion to facilitate the flow of information throughout the organization.
  • Regularly assess whether people are receiving and understanding critical communications.

Define Roles, Culture and Expectations

  • Based on the initial assessment, create or clarify role descriptions.
  • Develop systems to uphold accountability.
  • Evolve the organization’s decision-making process to include all voices.

Engage Everyone 

  • Invite all staff members to participate in your new model.
  • Ensure that all board members are well-informed about the organization and actively serving on appropriate committees.

Collaboration means working with others to achieve a common goal. But it can only take flight if all parties are invested and in agreement. To effectively shift toward a culture of shared leadership, staff and board members need well-defined roles and responsibilities as they move into the new model. A smooth transition can ease the organization forward with a sense of security and uniformity, allowing staff and board members to feel empowered in the new model—not concerned or unstable.

When a nonprofit adopts a collaborative leadership framework, it embraces stronger mission focus, enhanced communication practices and the ability to connect employees on a deeper level. Ultimately, this results in improved organizational outcomes, productivity and impact, as well as an enriched employee experience.

How We Can Help

Our nonprofit Consulting Services team works closely with nonprofit clients across the country to offer strategic support and guidance. 1

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