Building a Collaborative Culture for Change: Sustaining Collaborative Leadership

Five Strategies To Sustain Collaborative Leadership

This is the third post in a three-part series contributed by the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) to explore the challenges of and possible solutions to building collaborative leadership within school buildings, districts, and states.

By Neil Gupta and Tricia Ebner

In our previous two posts, we shared several problem mentalities that inhibit collaboration between leaders and teachers and discussed how important it is for leaders to create a culture of collaborative Building a Collaborative Culture for Change: Sustaining Collaborative Leadershipleadership. Once an organization has created collaborative leadership, the next challenge is sustaining it.
Too often, failure in leadership takes place because leaders focus on spinning the plate at the beginning without any time or plan to ensure it stays spinning. Kurt Lewin developed a change management model that focuses on three necessary processes that need to take place for long-term success: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. In this model, it is vital to create an overt plan and process to “refreeze” changes into the fabric of the organizational culture. The goal is for the change to become frozen into how things are done, regardless of budgetary changes, leadership, or other external factors. In this final post, we will share five strategies to sustain collaborative leadership.

Strategy #1: Keep the Goals as the Focus

Having clear goals and remaining focused on them is critical for ongoing collaborative leadership. Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why discusses this in depth. When a group consistently focuses on its goals, it is easier to keep difficulties in perspective and find solutions. In addition to assigning roles such as a “timekeeper,” “scribe,” and “facilitator,” consider nominating “chief warriors” of each goal to ensure tasks are monitored and accomplished with support. It is also just as important to have someone focus on preventing additional work that does not “move the needle” toward the goals—work that can quickly steal time, money, and attention.

Strategy #2: Honor the Process

Embedding collaborative leadership in a culture is a process. It is important to work through the process deliberately and take time to complete it. Racing through or shortcutting the process can jeopardize the collaborative leadership because the foundation hasn’t been firmly established. Too often, leaders focus on the process in the early implementation and then forget it over time. It is essential to revisit the norms and processes at each meeting. This is an opportunity for everyone to focus on the purpose and structures designed to keep the work moving forward.

Strategy #3: Distribute the Leadership

A collaborative leadership model flattens leadership structures, so it’s important to remember that leadership needs to be distributed. Developing ways to include others is crucial. It may be easy to keep going to the same two or three people who are go-getters that show leadership and seem to always enjoy the work. But be careful not to burn them out or put too much responsibility on them. Instead, look to others to share the work and develop their leadership skills.

Strategy #4: Be Transparent in the Process

Transparency in the group’s work and process is also important. Sharing minutes or notes with staff, holding open meetings where anyone interested can attend, and encouraging members to discuss the group’s work with their colleagues are all important parts of the process. When the group’s work is transparent, the goals of the collaborative leadership team are the goals of the organization and everyone becomes part of the work.

Strategy #5: Celebrate Throughout the Journey

While focusing on the work, it is easy to lose sight of progress and milestones along the way. It is imperative to build ongoing opportunities to celebrate the team’s goals as well as individuals who helped to make it happen. Innately, people want to be recognized and appreciated. In any human venture, feeling appreciated is part of what motivates people to continue doing the work. These recognitions don’t need to be extravagant or take too much time. Consider writing a handwritten note, giving a personal thanks, or providing cake at a staff meeting. Regardless, sincerity is key. These celebrations, whether personal or teamwide, are also good opportunities to reflect on the group’s progress.

Leadership is harnessed through the collective team creating and sustaining a collaborative environment. Watch out for the challenges that result from working in isolation and not being deliberate in the development of a collaborative environment. Through a nurturing and open atmosphere, the team will not only achieve the goals they’ve established, but they will also become confident using and maintaining these strategies, embedding them into the culture of the organization. Leaders who create these environments can truly provide a transformational opportunity for their students and staff.

Ohio educators Neil Gupta, a district-level administrator with over 10 years of administrative experience, and Tricia Ebner, a middle school gifted classroom teacher with 25 years of experience, have worked together at the state and national levels on assessments and instruction for the past four years.