Most of us have had the experience of working at established companies, where we know there is a time to speak, a time to keep your thoughts to yourself and sometimes sitting on a great idea, but not being able to bring it to the table since you’re not high enough on the ladder to do so. Hierarchy and asymmetric relations can become a threshold for innovation to take place within your organization. Today’s challenges raise many questions: How to keep the creativity flowing? How to share ownership, and stimulate entrepreneurship within the team? How to remain flexible, yet keeping a solid ground to build upon?

This having said, there is a big difference between small or big organizations, or organizations that just have seen the light. All have different challenges, but all of them need a healthy communication and feedback structure, and leadership.

At Ouishare, I attended a working addressing just that issue: ‘Collaborative Leadership’, and how to be a 21st century leader rather than a boss? During the workshop we were asked to exchange thoughts about our notions of these two profiles. Some key words that we came up with:

Leader: Inclusive | Vision | Decentralized | Ownership | Sustainable        

 Boss: Ego| Hierarchy | Centralized | Short-term | Frustration | Old Economy

So we have a different notion of what both profiles are about, but what does that mean in terms of behaviour or how it affects the team, and how do you approach it in your own organization?

Whereas a boss had to set rigid rules, and make the decisions for his team, a leader in our 21st century organizations has to create a context where people can express themselves and follow their passions as well as keep on learning and working independently, yet following a shared direction (Nilofer Merchant | Ouishare | Future of Work)

The nature of work is changing. A huge part of the mechanical work we did, and a lot of us are still doing during the Industrial Age, is now being automized, and the number of creative jobs are growing. So, where mechanical work asked for obedience, creative work asks for freedom. We see the rise of decentralized, or distributed organizational structures with completely different dynamics, and a need for a different kind of leadership.

These decentralized organizations are purpose-driven, and attract people who share the same values. This means it’s vital these values are also integrated into the internal processes and structure of the organization itself. If you’re a leader using new tools, but implementing them with an old way of thinking, the organization will not make it through these challenging transitional times.

So during the Ouishare Fest workshop “How can we create a more successful working culture through Collaborative Leadership”, we were given tools on how to implement these new ways of thinking in your daily work environment. We also took a closer look at how to keep the creativity flowing and how to create an atmosphere of ownership and inclusiveness, which are key to keep people engaged with the vision and mission.

The tools we practiced with were based on elements of improvisation theatre; they were introduced to the group as a way of communicating with team members. One specific example is to “Yes, and..” when someone presents or shares his or her idea. We are very used to answer with the default “no”, or “yes, but”, which closes the flow of ideas to build upon. So instead, we started using “Yes, and” and the results were amazing! In the beginning of the exercise you felt it didn’t go very smoothly, because we are also used to receive immediate comments on your ideas.  But after some time, as if this gateway to your imagination was unlocked, unexpected and crazy ideas started flowing. It was also a lot of fun to do, and by building upon each others ideas there was also a different connection made between the people ‘Yes and’ing’ each other. Now, I would also like to invite you too to switch to “Yes, and..” and witness the change happening.

An example:

Alex wants to organize an event about the inclusiveness of the collaborative economy. She wants to reach a big crowd, because she thinks this should be the next step in this field.

Boss says: yes, but we don’t think there is any budget for this type if event right now.


Boss says: no, I don’t see how we can afford that right now.

A better example:

Alex wants to organize an event about the inclusiveness of the collaborative economy. She wants to reach a big crowd, because she thinks this should be the next step in this field.

Leader says: Yes, that sounds like a great idea, and let’s also involve a partner? OR Yes, great idea, and let’s write out the plan and think of a cost-structure? Can you work it out further?

The result of the first, traditional, example would be that Alex may drop the idea, be unmotivated to develop the idea further, and even feel frustrated about it. Whereas in the last example, she might realize she needs develop and expand the idea further. She might find other paths to take, or other perspectives or partnerships to make her idea feasible. Nevertheless, the latter approach creates an open environment, and invited people to take ownership and make decisions themselves within the reality of the situation of the organization. Such an approach may be argued to be one of a leader rather than a boss since an atmosphere of fostering and encouraging creativity and ownership is created.

You can also use this technique to come to out-of-the-box ideas. Adding role play to it, another element coming from the world of theatre and performance, helps people to step out of their comfort zone, and they will be less afraid to share their ideas, no matter how farfetched and crazy they may sound. So “Yes, and” combined with role play can be used as a toolbox for nurturing innovation within your organization.

This is what we practiced during the workshop at Ouishare as well. Divided in smaller groups, we had to come up with creative ideas together as a team, and present them to the others. We were challenged to work with people we had never met before, investigated how people take on the role of leadership, and what the interpersonal dynamics were.  Interesting to see how “YES, and” and working with a fictional project, resulted in people giving an amazing group performance about the ideas they came up with.                                                                                

With a move towards decentralized organizations and new business models through phenomenon such as the collaborative economy, the behaviour and perspective of leadership and teams need to adapt. While hierarchy and asymmetric relations may have worked in the past, both the traditional- and new economy are seeing different ways of approaching business. Such new structures demand leaders and not bosses, leadership and not dictatorship. A work environment that encourages innovation and creativity need to be built, and maybe it’s a simple, or difficult, as changing a word from ‘Yes, but’ to ‘Yes, and’ and stepping out of your comfort zone.


A special thanks to Mercè Rua, who did a great job as workshop facilitator at the Ouishare Fest.

By Samantha van den Bos

Contributions by Theresa Thomasson

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