So you think you are good at collaboration - a leadership skills checklist

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated April 2022

Many leaders and managers have a rather narrow view of what it means to be an effective collaborator.

If you asked them to identify the key skills in collaboration they would probably struggle to list more than three. In this article I identify twelve key leadership collaboration skills which I believe offers a much broader and more comprehensive view of the ingredients needed for mastering collaboration. You can use this list to assess how effective you and your colleagues are at this vital management discipline. 

Note also that some of these skills involve getting the right balance between collaboration and competition. If you want more detail on this topic you can check-out my book “A Systematic Guide to Collaboration and Competition within Organizations” (See further reading on collaboration at the bottom of this article).

12 Key collaboration skills for leaders

1. Team Collaboration

Collaborating well with team members when you are the team leader and also when you are "just" another team member.  So this covers both good team leadership and good  “team followership” (which is rarely considered yet is a vital skill especially in senior teams). If you cannot collaborate within your own team what chance have you outside your team?

2. Coordination

Communicating well with other parties who have a shared interest in a goal or project.

3. Resource Sharing

Equitably Sharing common resources (e.g. people or facilities) considerately with other parties.

4. Cooperation

Working together but separately on a shared challenge. 

5. Co-Invention

Working in an integrated way with another party where you invest together and share both the risk and reward. Note that skills 1-5 are "Collaboration 101" and can also be thought of as a ladder of increasingly engaged collaboration.

6. Avoiding Sub-Optimization 

Prioritizing the whole at the expense of your part or team. Good systems optimize the whole and sub-optimize the parts. Bad systems optimize the parts and thus sub-optimize the whole. Skill areas 6 -12 are the more advanced collaboration skills which are often neglected.

7. Collaborative Competition

Temporarily collaborating with a “competitor” for mutual gain. For example collaborating with a competitor to sponsor a business conference to develop a market you are both interested in. 

8. Alliancing

Creating a partnership (short-term or long-term) beyond your normal co-travellers and boundaries. Think coalition government! 

9. Eco-Competition

Winning without others having to lose. For example, avoiding the temptation of starting a race to the bottom on price which is not required as there is enough business for all suppliers. 

10. Edgy-Collaboration

Collaborating without looking weak. Being a great team member is fine but make sure you are not naïve and get the credit for your efforts.

11. Negotiating

Give and take with an external party for mutual advantage. If your collaboration involves no trade-offs then it is probably one-sided rather than mutually beneficial. 

12. Virtual Collaboration

Last but by no means least you have to be able to perform these 11 skills not just face to face but at the end of a phone or over a video call. Lots more on this including my Martini Model (Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere) of virtual collaboration in the further reading section at the end of this article.

I am NOT suggesting that these 12 skills fully define collaboration.

For example, we also have Big Picture Collaboration where sometimes a leader needs to make an investment or offer help outside their traditional boundary for the sake of the community or bigger picture. Showing leadership in certain “stuck” situations may require you to make the first move in the hope of triggering a bilateral or multilateral collaborative response. 

However I would suggest that if you can master the 12 key skills introduced here you are well on the path to becoming a collaboration maestro!

Collaborative Skills Assessment App

It is possible to use the 12 skills to conduct a skills assessment using pencil and paper. Alternatively you can use our free mobile phone app to do this in a way which makes it easy to retain a permanent record to feed into further skills development discussions on this key topic.

You may freely access the Collaborative Skills Assessment app here. The app is web-based  – no registrations, logins or software downloads are required.

Improving collaboration skills experientially and socially

Team-based Business Simulations are a great way to develop stronger skills in collaboration and can be very effectively used in combination with the skills model/ assessment tool. For example: 

  • CHAPTER and CREW allow you to develop your Team Collaboration Skills.
  • COMPETE and PLAYOFF let you experience when you might need to collaborate with the competition.
  • XSIM and CONSORTIUM help you experience when and how you can move from an overly competitive view of things to a more productive collaborative approach.

Further reading on collaboration

A Systematic Guide to Collaboration and Competition within Organizations by Ken Thompson, February 2017

A Systematic Guide to High Performing Teams (HPTs)

We need a New Understanding of Collaborative Working

Three questions to ask when your boss says we need to collaborate better

Why managers resist collaboration ... and what you can do about it!

Leading Management Institute uses simulation for experiential virtual team learning

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More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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Systematic Guide to Collaboration and Competition within Organizations


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