Developing a Workplace Team Where Everyone’s a Leader

Aug. 9, 2010
As leaders struggle with growing pressures in today’s fast-paced workplace, the way leadership responsibilities are distributed within organizations is changing. According to a Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) leader, shared team leadership is the new approach in encouraging team members to reach their full potential.

SIOP Fellow J. Richard Hackman, Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, explained that scholars and practitioners are recognizing that a shift is taking place within the work force from traditional solo team leadership to shared team leadership.

“The most important conditions for effective shared team leadership include a team that is a mature and reasonably bounded group,” Hackman said. “They must know each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to identify who to go to for specific tasks. The second condition is being interdependent on one another for some specific shared purpose or goal.”

Hackman has been researching teamwork for several decades. Over the past 10 years, this research has evolved into a focus of shared team leadership. He has drawn his conclusions about shared team leadership from research on intelligence analysis teams, patient care teams, top management teams and a study of the Orpheus Orchestra, which performs without a conductor.

The Orpheus Orchestra has sometimes been described as “leaderless,” but as Hackman explained, this is untrue. The orchestra gives all members the opportunity to lead, thereby providing more leadership than one sees in traditional conductor-led ensembles.

“Research has shown that shared team leadership is like an audio amplifier,” Hackman explained. “If you have really effective shared leadership, so much more is possible, but it can also generate negative results if not used under the right conditions.”

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is an international group of industrial-organizational psychologists whose members study and apply scientific principles concerning workplace productivity, motivation, leadership and engagement. SIOP’s mission is to enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings by promoting the science, practice and teaching of industrial-organizational psychology.

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