DOES MORE THAN ONE COOK SPOIL THE BROTH? AN EXAMINATION OF SHARED TEAM LEADERSHIP

Postgraduate

ABSTRACT

Despite extensive theory and research on teams and leadership, few scholars have examined team leadership per se.  To help fill this void, I examine a construct that intertwines leadership and teams: shared team leadership.  Shared team leadership occurs when multiple individuals (not just the formal leader) exert downward, upward, and lateral influence (not just downward influence) on other team members in an effort to realize team goals.  As shared team leadership is an emerging construct, I address several questions to understand (1) What is the relationship between shared and traditional conceptualizations of vertical team leadership?  (2) How is shared team leadership different than potentially overlapping constructs? (3) What are the antecedents of shared team leadership? (4) How does shared team leadership relate to team processes, climate, and outcomes? and (5) How does shared team leadership relate to processes, climate, and outcomes over and above vertical team leadership as well as the potential overlapping constructs?

I examined these questions with a sample of 461 individuals in 39 fast-food restaurants using three different measurements of shared team leadership.  Results illustrated both the promises and problems with the construct of shared team leadership.  In particular, questions remained regarding several measurement issues of shared team leadership; there was a lack of between-group heterogeneity as well as convergent validity among the measures.  However, the referent shift consensus measurement approach of shared team leadership was significantly and positively related to team functioning.  Using this measurement strategy, shared team leadership was moderately related to the potential correlates of cooperation, helping, and climate for initiative.  In addition, shared team leadership was related to the antecedent of team member ability, the team process of cohesion, climate for service, and the outcome of subjective performance assessments.  Further, shared team leadership related to these potential consequences over and above vertical team leadership as well as the potential correlates in several cases.  Overall, these results provide some support for shared team leadership, but also raise new questions about the construct.  


Introduction

Teams are growing increasingly common as the primary work unit in organizations (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996; Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Kozlowski & Bell, 2003).  Over the last fifteen years, organizations have shifted from a reliance on individual-centered work structures to a reliance on teams (Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford, 1995).  Accompanying this organizational design shift are increased theory and research on teams (see Kozlowski & Bell, 2003 for a recent overview).  

Despite increased theory and research, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to the relationships between teams and leadership.  Both the team and leadership literatures have overlooked the topic of team leadership.  Major reviews of team effectiveness either do not mention the topic of leadership or reference it briefly in passing (e.g., Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993; Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996; Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005).  In addition, major reviews of leadership stress the relationship between the leader and the individual subordinate, ignoring the impact of teams (e.g., Bass, 1990; House & Aditya, 1997; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992).  

The goal of this dissertation is to examine the interplay between teams and leadership.  I take a multilevel view and examine shared leadership in teams.  Shared team leadership exists when multiple team members exert downward, upward, and lateral influence on their fellow teammates in an effort to realize team goals.  In contrast, vertical team leadership occurs when one leader exerts downward influence on team members in an effort to realize team goals.  In a team characterized by shared team leadership, all team members can and do perform leadership functions.  For example, every team member may provide structure for the team, reward other team members, and inspire other team members.  Essentially, shared team leadership is “a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in work groups in which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group goals.  This influence process often involves peer, or lateral, influence and at other times involves upward or downward hierarchical influence” (Conger & Pearce, 2003, p. 286).

A number of prominent leadership scholars have called for research on shared team leadership (e.g., Avolio, Sivasubramaniam, Murry, Jung, & Garger, 2003; Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004; House & Aditya, 1997; Yukl, 1998).  For example, Yukl (1998) stated that “the extent to which leadership can be shared, the conditions facilitating success of shared leadership, and the implications for design of organizations are all important and interesting questions that deserve more research” (p. 504).  And Pearce (2004) commented that “we need to ask if our traditional models and approaches to leadership are still appropriate – or if they need revising and rethinking” (p. 47). 

Examination of shared team leadership is also of interest to an applied business audience (e.g., Pearce, 2004; Teerlink, 2000) as the top management teams of many major corporations have utilized shared or co-leadership (O’Toole, 1999; O’Toole, Galbraith, & Lawler, 2003).  And yet, some leadership scholars are skeptical (e.g., Locke, 2003), wondering whether shared team leadership is “simply the latest in a seemingly neverending list of adjectival forms” of leadership (Day et al., 2004, p. 875).  

To better understand shared team leadership, I address several key questions to explore and examine the construct.  More specifically, in this dissertation, my goal is to answer five questions:  (1) What is the relationship between shared and vertical team leadership?  (2) How is shared team leadership different than potentially overlapping constructs? (3) What are the antecedents of shared team leadership? (4) How does shared team leadership relate to team processes, climate, and outcomes? and (5) How does shared team leadership relate to processes, climate, and outcomes over and above vertical team leadership as well as the potential overlapping constructs?