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Collective leadership is built on a foundation of trust. For a group of people to work successfully together toward a common goal - whether it’s within an organization, a school or a community - there must be respect and the willingness to learn from one another.

As we build trust within a team, we open ourselves up to vulnerability while sharing our perspectives, abilities and insights. We make ourselves vulnerable to others, and at the same, we must be receptive to other ideas and experiences that are very different from our own. This is where the real growth happens - starting with individuals and expanding into communities. Collective leadership challenges us all, and with challenge comes change.

Part of building a strong team means talking about difficult topics that bring up deep emotions and strong convictions that others don’t always agree on. Empathy and the willingness to understand others and closely examine our own beliefs are integral to effective collective leadership.


Meeting new people at the Seattle CLE in May 

Building an Effective Collective Leadership Team


As you build your team these are some things to keep in mind:


Be open to, and honor, the difference in your team.

Now is the time to embrace the knowledge, skills and resources that your fellow teammates have to offer. This can be both rewarding and difficult at times. People will have different cultural backgrounds, points of view, personality types and communication styles that will affect the working environment. Honor your differences, while looking for common ground and opportunities to treat others the way they want to be treated. All of these diverse perspectives are valuable in creating change.   

At this step, listening is essential. When frustrations or tensions emerge, encourage everyone to listen even more. Ask yourself why you might be reacting in a certain way, and ask others the same. Listen and communicate honestly to see where there may be a disconnect or misunderstanding.


Anchor yourselves in a shared purpose.

With any team that includes a diversity of cultures, perspectives and personalities, it’s important to be rooted in a common purpose. This will be especially valuable during times of stress or disagreement.

Make action plans as a team, focusing on the impact you want to make and the goals you want to achieve. This shared mission unifies you as a group and also sets the framework for the first steps toward your collective priorities. Celebrate progress, share struggles, encourage differences and continue to honor your teammates with open communication.


Act collectively and with accountability.

Acting collectively does not mean that the entire team must make every decision together. What it does mean is that you recognize one another’s gifts and create room for them to be utilized and valued.

A misconception about collective leadership is the notion that everyone must agree unanimously and have the approval of the group (and hear from every member) in order to take action. In truth, that practice often paralyzes teams and leads to inaction. If everyone is on the same page with the common purpose, individuals should be free to act in ways that contribute to the ultimate shared goals of the group.

Trying to act as a single unit can also result in a lack of ownership within the group. When responsibilities are unclear, no one is in charge of executing important tasks. When we hold each other accountable and set defined expectations, everyone benefits.


Have a system that includes new partners.

In order to build collective leadership that is sustainable, we need to make sure that we remain open and welcoming to new members over time. Even within a committed core group, changes will occur and people will come and go. Collective leadership is designed to extend beyond any one person, and as the group evolves, you will discover the cyclical nature of collective leadership, which often leads you back to the steps of building trust within a team.

Read more about collective leadership.


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