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Collaborative leadership

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision

With five distinct generations in today’s workforce, understanding generational differences and similarities is an essential part of creating an inclusive and equitable workplace. Recognizing the inherent differences that exist from one generation to the next is important for the health of any business; for nonprofits, it is also key for community connection and, subsequently, mission impact. Nonprofit leaders have an incredible opportunity to listen to and leverage diverse perspectives in order to drive operational excellence and foster a culture rooted in teamwork, trust and mentorship across generations.

Did you know?

Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2016 and beginning to enter the workforce today) is the largest and most disruptive generation to date, accounting for one-third of the entire global population.1 The influence of this generation is anticipated to grow exponentially as the U.S. undergoes the ‘Great Wealth Transfer’ that is expected to transfer an estimated $72.6 trillion to the next generation.2 Gen Z's purchasing power is projected to represent $33 trillion in income by 2030, surpassing Millennial income by 2031.3

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

The new talent that enters the workforce continues to bring different values, priorities and skill sets to the workplace. As a result, leaders must patiently adjust their business and human capital management strategies to reflect the changing workplace dynamics and move toward an adaptable, agile leadership style that embraces generational differences, priorities and values. This shared or collaborative leadership approach is a framework that can empower all key organizational roles to appropriately and equitably engage in decision-making, contribute knowledge and expertise, and lead the organization to its most effective outcomes.

To start implementing a collaborative leadership model, an organization must have three key components:

  • Clearly identified processes around allowing for adjustments along the way.
  • A strong commitment to building connections among staff, executives and board members, increasing trust and retention.
  • An organizational culture that encourages and promotes the open exchange of ideas, critiques and calculated risks.

Once these foundations are in place, consider the “ABCs of Collaborative Leadership” for ways to build your new framework.

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 and share 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, 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. Therefore, it can only be successful if all parties understand, commit to and invest in the cause. It may be helpful to start with a review and revision of board and staff roles and responsibilities to clearly capture and culturally embed your new collaborative leadership values, goals and expectations.

With proper time and investment, a collaborative leadership framework will yield enhanced communication and information flows, enriched employee experience and amplified mission focus. A successful model will create an inclusive workplace where all board and staff members are heard, seen, empowered and celebrated in an organizational culture grounded in mutual understanding and respect. 

How we can help

Our nonprofit Consulting Services team works closely with nonprofit clients across the country to offer strategic support and guidance. 4

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