Collaboration has long been viewed as an effective technique in resolving conflicts on project teams . Collaboration that results from conflict occurs frequently when diverse and conflicting points of view are recognized as important and viable and then are integrated into a unified solution (Blake and Mouton, 1964; Thomas and Kilmann, 1974). This approach prescribes the use of a combination of high assertiveness and high cooperativeness when one team member considers the merits of another person's ideological position. As a prelude to working together in finding optimal and integrated solutions, a collaborative leadership approach would guide the team members to treat each other's ideas as important to the overall project outcome. Consequently, the intellectual energy of the participants in this discussion will be focused on merging perspectives in order to draw from a broader range of expertise and experience. The concept of collaboration also emphasizes learning from others by way of testing all assumptions. Most important of all, if a team member demonstrates a willingness to work with others and to understand other team members' perspectives, he or she will gain greater trust and support, which in turn will improve future ongoing communication among team members.
Research on the nature and texture of work in growing organizations has substantiated the importance of collaboration. Based on the results of this research, a five-part evolution has been suggested (Greiner, 1972). The five stages of growth are creativity, direction, delegation, coordination, and collaboration. The five-part model is based on the premise that growing organizations move through five relatively calm phases of evolution, each of which ends with a brief period that is characterized by revolution and crisis. The five evolutionary periods have a dominant management style that is used to achieve growth. Each crisis period also has a dominant management crisis that must be solved before growth can continue. For example, in the creativity stage, the emphasis of the founders of the organization is to create a product or service and a specific market niche. Emphasis is solely on establishing the organization, but as the organization develops, management problems occur that cannot be handled easily in an informal way. The founders of the organization then find themselves concentrating on managerial concerns. A crisis of leadership then develops, and the first revolutionary period begins. The founders must either become managers of this process or find an internal person to direct and manage internal operations of the company in order to lead to the next stage, growth through direction. The direction period then leads to a revolutionary period, the crisis of autonomy. People feel that there is not enough empowerment, employees become disenchanted as they believe they lack responsibility, and many decide to leave the organization. The solution is usually greater delegation, the third stage, with a more decentralized structure. However, this provokes a crisis of control as top managers now feel they have lost control over the organization. This often results in a return to centralization, which creates even more resentment on the part of those at lower levels. A more effective solution is the fourth stage, coordination. It is characterized by the use of formal systems by management for greater coordination. This fourth stage is very germane here, because it is during the period of coordination in which some people in many organizations seem to get carried away. The end result is a crisis of red tape or bureaucracy, formal programs, and rigid systems. If these problems are to be overcome , collaboration, the fifth stage, is required. Collaboration "emphasizes greater spontaneity in management through teams and the skillful confrontation of interpersonal differences. At this point, social controls, and self-discipline, take over from formal control" (Greiner, 1972). The preceding concepts were later extended in order to offer collaboration as an alternative to traditional hierarchical leadership in solving problems (Chrislip and Larsen, 1994). This approach promotes leadership that brings diverse stakeholders together in a partnership arrangement where everyone is regarded as a peer. This process requires a high level of involvement, a clear purpose, adequate resources, the power to decide, and the will to implement from all associated with the effort.
Those team members who exercise collaboration are goal-oriented individuals who prompt the team to fulfill its mission with new ideas and enhanced methods (Parker, 1994). The virtual team is the ideal mechanism for collaborative leadership because, compared to a traditional team, virtual team members are more likely to regard one another as peers. In a virtual team, team members can be both independent and collaborative at the same time. In virtual teams, people are more likely to be viewed in terms of what they have to contribute, rather than their formal status or position in the organization. Such a shift in focus is caused by the fact that, without collocation, people are not as aware of someone's position, age, or seniority in the organization. These virtual-specific attributes point to behaviors that will result in a higher level of achievement.
A collaborative leader would help the team achieve its goals more effectively by putting the project work into the proper context of the organizational strategies. The collaborative leader is able to tap the resources and talents of the various team members to support his or her own specific assignments, as well as the overall team's objectives. The focus of the energy of a collaborative leader is on meeting the project's goals and objectives by being involved, connected, and engaged. To set boundaries for this leadership behavior, a collaborative leader does not make all the decisions for the team, nor does he or she do all of the work at the risk of duplicating the work of others. Rather, a collaborative leader meets project goals by involving the entire team through team problem solving. The premise is that project roles and work procedures depend upon mutual support, team spirit, and cooperative efforts. By exercising collaborating leadership, each virtual team member has the ability to influence, direct, and motivate others in order to achieve project goals and objectives. Personal relationships are valued as much as the project outcomes . Further, if the project team members' participation and input are valued, then the team as a unit can focus on incremental and obtainable goals and milestones for the benefit of the project deliverable .
In a collaborative environment, a reasonable amount of risk taking is considered desirable. In this environment, conflicts are viewed as problems to be solved, and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Thus, a collaborative leader will be able to obtain optimal, rather than compromise, solutions. The goal of a collaborative leader is to inspire others to a mutual commitment, mutual action, and mutual facilitation. In turn, the team would naturally gravitate toward a value-creating mentality through recognizing the contributions of others and celebrating their contributions to the project. Appendix 4C can be used to assess whether you, or one of your virtual team members, meet the characteristics of a collaborative leader.