Leadership in teams and decision groups

Yukl, Gary (2010). Leadership in Teams and Decision Groups. Dans Leadership in Organizations, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall, pp. 332-367.

Small task group in which the members have a common purpose, interdependent roles, and complementary skills (p. 333).

Dyadic leadership theories are useful for describing leadership in coacting groups, but for interacting teams some additional leadership processes are needed to explain team performance.

Common characteristics of four types of teams

Functional work team Cross-functional team Self-managed operating team Top executive team
Autonomy to determine mission and objectives Low Low to moderate Low to moderate High
Autonomy to determine work procedures Low to moderate High High High
Authority of the internal leader High Moderate to high Low High
Duration of existence for the team High Low to moderate High High
Stability of the membership High Low to moderate High High
Diversity of members in functional background Low High Low High

Functional work team

Members have different responsibilities, but they are helping to perform the same basic function.

Cross-functional team

Typically includes representatives from each of the functional subunits involved in a project, and may include representatives from outside organizations.

Self-managed operating team

Much of the responsibility and authority usually vested in a manager’s position is turned over to the team members.

Members typically have similar functional backgrounds and take turns performing the various tasks for which the team is responsible.


  • Stronger commitment
  • More effective management of work problems
  • Improved efficiency
  • More job satisfaction
  • Less turnover
  • Less absenteeism

Cross-training helps with turnover and illness.

The potential advantages depend in part on the amount of autonomy that is provided to the team, and member feelings of collective empowerment (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999; Tesluk & Matthieu, 1999).

Giving authority to a self-managed team rather than to an individual leader does not necessarily result in collective feelings of empowerment.

Litterature (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Goodman, Devadas, & Hughson, 1988; Kirkman & Rosen, 1999; Pearce & Ravlin 1987) : Employee empowerment can improve job satisfaction and team performance.

Much of it is based on weak research methods or anecdotal reports published in business periodicals (p. 337).

Experimental or quasi-experimental field studies : Banker, Field, Schroeder, & Sinha, 1996; Cohen & Ledford, 1994; Cordery, Mueller, & Smith, 1991; Pasmore, 1978; Pearson, 1992; Wall, Kemp, Jackson, & Klegg, 1986). Inconsistent results.

They need competent leadership and support (Hackman, 1986; Lawler, 1986).

Facilitating conditions

  • Clearly-defined, shared objectives
  • Complex and meaningful task
  • Small size and stable membership
  • Substantial member influence over work processes
  • Access to relevant information
  • Appropriate recognition and rewards
  • Strong support by top management
  • Competent external leader
  • Members have strong interpersonal skills

(Carson, Tesluk & Marrone, 2007; Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Goodman, Devadas and Hughson, 1988; Hackman, 1986; Kirkman & Rosen, 1999; Mathieu, Gilson & Ruddy, 2006; Pearce & Ravlin, 1987; Sundstrom, DeMeuse & Futrell, 1990)

Determinants of team performance

Models of team performance : Gladstein, 1984; Hackman, Brousseau & Weiss, 1976; Hewett, O’Brien & Hornik, 1974; McGrath, 1984; O’Brien & Kabanoff, 1981; Pearce & Ravlin, 1987; Shiflett, 1979; Wofford, 1982; Zaccaro, Rittman & Marks, 2001).

Leadership behavior Mediating variable
Visioning, expressing confidence, celebrating progress Task commitment, collective efficacy
Involving members in making decisions, leading meetings to make decisions Task commitment, quality of performance strategies
Recruiting and selecting competent team members Member skills, collective efficacy
Coaching, training, and clarifying role expectations and priorities Member skills and role clarity, individual and collective efficacy
Planning and organizing team activities and projects Efficiency and internal coordination, collective efficacy
Facilitating team learning (e.g., after-activity review) Adaptation to change, quality of performance strategies, collective efficacy
Team building and constructive resolution of conflict Mutual trust and cooperation, member identification with the team
Networking, monitoring/scanning of the external environment Adaptation to change, external coordination, quality of performance strategies
Representing, promoting, lobbying, negotiating Resources and political support, external coordination

Commitment to shared objective

Higher performance when motivated to attain shared objectives (Podsakoff, MacKenzie & Ahearne, 1997).

Task commitment is higher when the team considers the objectives worthy of their bes effort.

The leader must ensure that all members are highly committed and willing to make a maximum effort.

Shared vision and strong confidence in the team facilitate teamwork (Pearce & Ensley, 2004).

To increase commitment

  • articulating an appealing vision
  • describing the task that links it to member values and ideals
  • explaining why a project or task is important
  • involving members in planning strategies for attaining the objectives
  • empowering members to find creative solutions to problems (See chapter 4 and 9)

Accurate, shared mental model

Mental model
How someone perceives the nature and cause of a problem and likely solutions (Cannon-Bowers, Salas & Converse, 1993).

A shared understanding about assumptions and cause-effect relationships can facilitate the development of effective strategies and plans by a team and increase their commitment to implement them (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994).

Accuracy is important to performance (Edwards, Day, Arthur & Bell, 2006; Lim & Klein, 2006).

To improve understanding and agreement

  • implementing more accurate measures of team processes and determinants of performance
  • holding a dialogue sessions and after-activity reviews
  • holding problem-solving meetings
  • conducting controlled experiment

Member skills and role clarity

Team performance will be higher when members have the knowledge and skills necessary to do the work and they understand what to do, how to do it, and when it must be done.

Member skills and clear role expectations are more important when the task is complex and difficult to learn.

To improve member skills

  • influence the selection of new members and ensure an appropriate mix of complementary skills (Klimoski & Jones, 1995)
  • explain member responsibilities and relevant procedures for performing specific types of activities (Marks,  Zaccaro & Mathieu, 2000)
  • assess the skills of current members to identify training needs, provide constructive feedback and coaching, and arrange for member to receive necessary instruction in other ways

Internal organization and coordination

The design of work roles and the assignment of people to them determine how efficiently the team carries out its work.

Team performance also depends on the extent to which the interdependent activities of different members are mutually consistent and synchronized.

Coordination is determined by decision made during the planning phase prior to the start of the new task, and the team will usually perform a new task better if it takes the time to plan an explicit strategy that takes into account potential obstacles and problems that could limit performance (Hackman & Morris, 19 The75; Tesluk & Mathieu, 1999).

To organize activities

  • planning out to make efficient use of personnel and resources
  • making contingency plans to deal with possible obstacles and emergence
  • involving members with relevant expertise in planning operations for the team
  • leading meetings to collectively solve problems and plan activities

To improve coordination

  • planning how to schedule and sequence activities to avoid unnecessary delays and wasted time
  • actively monitoring the team’s performance and using this information to direct and synchronize member activities

To share some of the responsibility for internal coordination

  • ensuring that members understand how their roles are interrelated
  • by frequent rehearsal of complex activities
  • training together under realistic conditions is especially important for teams that have difficult, dangerous activities to perform

External coordination

The importance of external coordination increases as teams become more dependent on each other (Marks, DeChurch, Mathieu, Panzer & Alonso, 2005).

Leaders must facilitate communication and coordination not only with other teams in the same organization, but also what outsiders such as clients must be accommodated (Ancona, 1990; Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Galbraith, 1973; Sundstrom, DeMeuse & Futrell, 1990).

to improve external coordination and adaptation

  • maintaining a network of contacts who can provide relevant information
  • encouraging members to develop their own networks of useful contacts
  • monitoring external events to identify threats and opportunities for the team
  • meeting with clients or users to learn about their needs
  • consulting with other units of the organization about plants and the decisions that affect them
  • facilitating shared mental models that accurately describe the relationship between the team and its environment

Resources and political support

Group performance also depends on getting information, resources, and political support needed to do the work (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003; Peters, O’Connor, Eulberg & Rudolf, 1980; Peters, O’Connor & Eulberg, 1985; Tesluk & Mathieu, 1999).

Relevant resources may include budgetary funds, tools and equipment, supplies and materials, and facilities.

To obtain necessary resources

  • planning the resources required for a special project or activity
  • preparing budgets and making briefings to superiors to justify requests
  • lobbying with superiors to provide additional resources
  • influencing superiors to authorize use of unusual equipment, supplies, or materials
  • promoting and defending the reputation of the team with superiors
  • establishing cooperative relationships with outsiders who are a potential source of necessary resources and assistance
  • negotiating favorable agreement with suppliers and vendors.

Mutual trust and cooperation

When team member roles are highly interdependent, it is essential for them to share information and resources and help each other.

Information sharing is essential to group performance, and it can be facilitated by aspects of relations-oriented and empowering leadership (e.g., Srivastava, Bartol, & Locke, 2006).

Cooperation is more likely when members identify with the team, value their membership in it, and are intrinsically motivated to support it. Cooperation is also facilitated by a high level of mutual trust.

Collective efficacy and potency

Collective efficacy is likely to be higher for a team with strong member skills, a high level of mutual trust and cooperation, ample resources, and a relevant performance strategy.

Recent evidence shows that a leader can influence collective efficacy with types of behavior usually associated with empowering leadership and transformational or charismatic leadership (eg., Bass, Avolio, jung, & Berson, 2005; Gil, Rico, Alcover, & Barrasa, 2005; Lester, Meglino, & Korsgaard, 2002; Sosik, Avolio, & Kahai, 1997; Sivasubramaniam, Murry. Avolio. Sr jung, 2002; Srivastava et al., 2006).

To build member confidence in the team a leader can (Eden, 1990; Pescosolido, 2002; Sutton & Woodman, 1989; Kouzes & Posner, 1987):

  • display optimism
  • express confidence in the team
  • set realistic goals or targets that will provide an opportunity to experience early success
  • help the team find ways to overcome obstacles
  • celebrate progress and important achievements

Leadership in Different Types of Teams

Some leadership roles are relevant for all types of teams, and effective leadership usually requires a mix of task-oriented and relations-oriented behaviors.

Cross-Functional Teams

When a cross-functional project team is self-managed, an excessive amount of time may be consumed by process problems and unresolved conflicts, leaving less time to perform the primary mission of the team. Research on cross-functional project teams indicate that they are less likely to be successful when self-managed (Cohen & Bailey, 1997).

Skills required for leading cross-functional project teams

  1. Technical expertise: The leader must be able to communicate about technical matters with team members from diverse functional backgrounds.
  2. Project management skills: The leader must be able to plan and organize the project activities, select qualified members of the team, and handle budgeting and financial responsibilities.
  3. Interpersonal skills: The leader must be able to understand the needs and values of team members, to influence them, resolve conflicts, and build cohesiveness.
  4. Cognitive skills: The leader must be able to solve complex problems that require creativity and systems thinking, and must understand how the different functions are relevant to the success of the project.
  5. Political skills: The leader must be able to develop coalitions and gain resources, assistance, and approvals from top management and other relevant parties

Mumford and colleagues (2002) found three themes that described essential processes:

  1. idea generation: it is essential for the leader to stimulate and facilitate creativity by members
  2. idea structuring: it is important for the leader to provide clear objectives for the project and explain how it is relevant for the organization, but also to allow ample autonomy with regard to how the project objectives will be attained
  3. idea promotion: necessary resources and support for the project must be obtained from the parent organization

From interviews and observations of teams, Barry (1991) identified four leadership roles that appear to be essential for teams that solve problems, manage projects, or develop policy:

  1. envisioning: provides a shared objective
    1. Articulating strategic objectives or a vision that inspires commitment by team members
    2. Helping the team understand and improve their assumptions and mental models regarding the relationships among task variables
    3. Suggesting creative ideas and encouraging the team to consider innovative performance strategies
  2. organizing: helps the team decide how to attain it
    1. Planning and scheduling team activities to achieve coordination and meet project deadlines
    2. Helping the team establish standards and methods for assessing progress and performance
    3. Arranging and conducting meetings to solve problems and make decisions in a systematic way
  3. social integrating: helps to maintain internal cohesiveness
    1. Encouraging mutual trust, acceptance, and cooperation among team members
    2. Facilitating open communication, equal participation, and tolerance of dissenting views
    3. Mediating conflicts among members and helping them find integrative solutions
  4. external spanning: helps to keep group decisions compatible with the needs of stakeholders outside the team
    1. Monitoring the external environment of the team to identify client needs, emerging problems, and political processes that will affect the team
    2. Promoting a favorable image of the team among outsiders
    3. Influencing people outside the team to provide adequate resources, approvals, assistance, and cooperation

Envisioning is especially important when the group is forming, whereas organizing is more important after the group has agreed on an objective.

Research on cross-functional teams indicates that the leader must be flexible and adaptive as conditions change (e.g., Lewis, Welsh, Dehler, & Green. 2002).

The difficulties and obstacles facing many cross-functional teams are so great that the formal leader may be unable to carry out all of the relevant leadership roles alone. The different lines of research on leadership in cross-functional teams all indicate that success requires the efforts of multiple leaders (Barry, 1991; Cohen & Bailey. 1997; Mumford et al., 2002).

Some of the internal leadership responsibilities may be shared at times with individual members of the team who have special expertise about a particular aspect of the project.

It is important for higher management to provide a clear mission, necessary resources, and political support for the implementation of ideas developed by the team.

Self-Managed Work Teams

Internal leader

The internal leadership role involves management responsibilities assigned to the team and shared by group members. The primary responsibility of the internal leader is to coordinate and facilitate the process of making and implementing team decisions (e.g., conduct meetings, prepare work schedules and administrative paperwork),

The amount of shared leadership and what aspects are shared can vary significantly (Carson, Tesluk & Morrone, 2007).

At various times, one member may assume responsibility for providing coordination and direction on specific team activities, depending on who has the most expertise.

However, difficult supervisory functions such as enforcing group norms may be performed collectively.

External leader

The role of an external leader involves managerial responsibilities not delegated to the team.

One leadership role that is especially important when the team is formed is to serve as a coach, facilitator, and consultant to the team.

Another important role is to obtain necessary information, resources, and political support from the organization.

The external leader must be able to influence team members to think and behave in ways that increase team effectiveness, and to influence other people in the organization to do what is necessary to facilitate team effectiveness.

As compared to leaders of traditional functional teams, effective external leaders of self-managed teams are less likely to use their legitimate power in directive ways to influence the team; instead they are more likely to ask questions and use influence based on their expert and referent power (Druskat & Wheeler, 2005).

Other writers (e.g., Druskat & Wheeler. 2005; Hackman, 1986) who contend that the external leader is important for the success of self-managed teams, not only in the early stages but later as well.

Virtual Teams

It is likely that the same leadership roles relevant for co-located teams are also relevant for virtual teams, but the relative importance of these roles and how they are carried out may differ somewhat for virtual teams. Much more research is needed to clarify these issues.

Procedures for Facilitating Team Learning

After-Activity Reviews

Learning from experience is more likely when a systematic analysis is made after an important activity is finished to discover the reasons for success or failure.

After-activity review
(also called an “after-action review,” an “after-event review,” or a “post-mortem”) is a procedure for collectively analyzing the processes and resulting outcomes of a team activity.

For long projects or training simulations, it is also useful to conduct progress review sessions at convenient intermediate points.

The use of after-activity reviews for evaluating activities and planning improvements is pervasive now in the U.S. Army, and it is slowly gaining acceptance in civilian organizations as well (Baird, Holland, & Deacon, 1999; Ellis & Davidi, 2005).

There has been little research to evaluate the benefits of after-activity reviews, the facilitating conditions, or the best procedures.

Both groups improved their subsequent performance, but the group that analyzed both failures and successes had significantly more improvement in performance. The reasons for success may be more difficult to identify, but they can aid in the development of more complex and accurate mental models about the determinants of performance (Ellis & Davidi, 2005).

Performance improved more when the discussion was focused on specific causes involving individual actions that can be improved rather than general causes or external conditions affecting performance. Focusing only on success can increase complacency and reduce attention to weaknesses and potential problems that may not be avoided next time.

Guidelines for conducting an after-activity review

  1. Near The beginning make a self-critique that acknowledges shortcomings
  2. Encourage feedback from others and model non-defensive acceptance of it
  3. Ask members to identify effective and ineffective aspects of team performance
  4. Encourage members to examine how group processes affected team performance
  5. Keep the discussion focused on behaviors rather than on individuals
  6. lf necessary, provide your own assessment of team performance
  7. Recognize improvements in team performance
  8. Ask members for suggestions on how to improve team performance
  9. Propose improvements not already included in the team’s suggestions

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