How Leaders Can Create a Culture of Agile Collaboration to Win in a VUCA World

China growth-deceleration, the normalisation of monetary policies on the USA, tepid economies in Europe, oil prices roller-coaster ride, ever faster evolutions in customer-spending patterns are just a few of the countless factors increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (‘VUCA’) in our business world.

Such an environment compels companies to relentlessly evolve their value propositions, more relevantly and quickly than competitors. Pulling out the best from their resources isn’t enough. Breakthrough collective thinking across divisions as well as swift decision-processes and executive are necessary. Therefore enterprises must radically enhance collaboration and agility. How can leaders grow to overcome such challenges? And what must they accomplish to create a culture of agile collaboration?

Here are four steps that go a long way!

Drop the masks

Successful leaders in a ‘VUCA’ world can’t make ‘perfect decisions’ because there aren’t any… Yet they must gain and retain their followers’ trust. Hence leaders must show up as authentic – and humble too, as Jim Collins noted in his book “from Good to Great”. Dropping the masks of perfection or superiority makes leaders vulnerable. Leaders can afford such discomfort only if they have gained robust self-confidence.

The self-development journey that nurtures it starts with gaining a comprehensive self-awareness and then mustering the courage to accept one’s strengths, weaknesses and character flaws. Self-acceptance reinforces the determination to grow and then bring out one’s best. From there, leaders’ genuine self-confidence soars – and makes them far more inspiring role-models than directive, paternalistic authoritarians.

Lift others up

The second step for leaders is to enhance followers’ motivation and capabilities, ensuring they bring out their best individually and go further and faster together as a team. People learn fastest ‘by doing’ and from mistakes. Therefore leaders must empower widely, cascading authority down to the lowest levels reasonable, and removing excessive fears of failure.

Such an approach emboldens employees to take initiatives, and generates leaders at all levels. Whilst people should always feel leaders care for and support them, leaders must not over-protect them. Leaders must also recognise when their subordinates know better, and then offer them the space to contribute at their best, remembering that leadership is like a dance – sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.

Get the acts together

Once leaders and managers across the organization are authentic and humble, and all employees feel supported to grow their capabilities (hence gaining self-esteem), the next step is to ensure teamwork produces far better outcomes than the addition of individual contributions. Leaders must first stop any remaining toxic behaviours from team-members. Then they should invite teams to co-create the ‘rules of their game’, defining how they want to ‘play together’ to bring out their best collective thinking and ensure full accountability for the execution of their decisions. Getting team-members’ acts together triggers solid collaborative engagement.

Unleash collaboration and agility

The last step towards winning in a ‘VUCA’ world requires bringing down walls between divisions. Leaders and managers must instil a bias for diversity and coach employees as they embrace the challenges of ‘playing well with others’ outside of their own turf for the greater good of the organization.

Beyond this, leadership teams should define the beliefs and behaviours that must be embedded across their enterprise to create a culture of agile collaboration. Here are a few real examples:

In addition, leaders must ruthlessly kick-out politics, trim processes to enhance decision-making speed, and continuously raise the bar for performance.

Those four steps rewards employees for stepping out of their comfort-zone, and embed agile collaboration to support sustainable high performance. Given the pressing challenges of our ‘VUCA’ world, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago… The next best time is now”, as the Chinese proverb says.

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Isabelle Larche

Managing Director, Recruitment & Executive Search at Timeo-Performance

Isabelle is a Human Performance expert, with over 10 years of professional recruitment experience, and 15 years of Business Management Consulting experience. Isabelle is the Vice President of the French Chamber of Commerce and Trade Counsellor (Singapore Chapter) to the French Embassy.

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