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Developing an Effective Team Leadership Strategy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Leadership
Wordcount: 4359 words Published: 21st Sep 2021

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Leadership in organisational groups or work teams has become one of the most popular and rapidly growing areas of leadership theory and research. Research on the effectiveness of organisational teams has suggested that the use of teams has led to greater productivity, more effective use of resources, better decisions and problem solving, better-quality products and services, and greater innovation and creativity (Parker, 1990).

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Studies also suggest that it is essential to understand the role of leadership within teams to ensure team success and to avoid team failure. To ensure team success, team leaders need to develop an effective team leadership strategy. Therefore, the report will explain, discuss and critically evaluate the statement made by Burke and Cooper (2006), that ‘without considering the key contingencies of organisation context, team support systems, and team type, team leaders will not have the information they need to develop an effective team leadership strategy'.

The report support Burke and Cooper's (2006) view by focusing on helping team leaders to improve their effectiveness by identifying specific team leadership strategies that are contingent upon organisation context factors, support systems, and type of team being led. The three functions most critical to team performance include effort, strategy and KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) (Hackman and Wageman, 2005). They suggested that team leaders must focus on behavioural approaches that will have the greatest impact on each of these three functions and then based on organisational context, team support, and team type, team leaders decide on which function to concentrate. If this process is executed successfully, it will help team leader to develop an effective team leadership strategy.

However, the strategic contingency model of team leadership developed in this report focuses on leader behaviour guided by team function and task performance and thus fails to recognise the individual, team personality or interpersonal issues. “Indeed, we would argue that effective leadership processes represent perhaps the most critical factor in the success of organisational teams” (Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001, p. 452). Conversely, ineffective leadership often is seen as the primary reason teams fail (Stewart & Manz, 1995, p. 748). Thus, effective leadership processes such as, a team leader's mental models and leadership approach to harvest the lessons of experience to expand and deepen his or her knowledge base and skill set are also important to develop effective leadership strategy (Salas, Kosarzycki, Tannenbaum & Carnegie, 2004).

Effective Team Leadership Strategy

Katzenbach and Smith (1993), have argued for distinguishing work groups and work teams, and have come to a definition that work teams is “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.

To support Burke and Cooper's statement, we have focussed on a functional approach to leadership, stated by Hackman and Wageman (2005): “if a leader manages, by whatever means, to ensure that all functions critical to group performance are taken care of, the leader has done his or her job well” (p. 273).

A Strategic Contingency Model of Team Leadership

The strategic contingency model of team leadership helps in identifying the appropriate team functions on which to focus should be contingent on organisation context, team support systems, and team type. These key contingencies will also help in developing an effective team leadership strategy. Besides, the model provides a mental road map to help the team leader diagnose team problems and take appropriate strategic course of action to correct these problems and bringing out team effectiveness.

Team Effectiveness

Team effectiveness can relate to the desired outcome of team work. There are two critical functions of team effectiveness: Performance which entails the successful delivery of an output (that is products, decisions, performance events, services, or information) and Viability which means the future oriented and includes continuity, commitment, cohesion and capability to accomplish shared purpose (Halfhill and Huff , 2004).

Team Functions

According to Hackman and Morris (1975), the functions that are most critical to team effectiveness fall into three categories:

Therefore, Team leaders must focus on behavioural approaches that will have the greatest impact on each of these three functions.

Teams who are able to put forth the appropriate amount of effort, formulate strategies in line with key task demands, and whose team members possess sufficient KSAs will likely to perform more effectively compared to those who are not. However, the model shows that there are organisational context factors, team support system and team type that may impact the relevance and impact of effort, strategy and KSAs.

We will therefore explain and discuss the three key contingencies which help the team leader to take appropriate strategic decisions on which team functions to focus in order to achieve team effectiveness.

Organisation Context

Organisation context factors include elements such as culture, task design and technology, autonomy, performance feedback, rewards, training and physical environment (Sandstorm et.al, 1990). The model has concentrated on only three factors: Task design which involves the degree to which team tasks are complex, unpredictable, and dynamic versus simple, predictable and stable. Autonomy is defined as the degree to which team leaders' control how their teams approach work. Input control refers to the control over work inputs utilised by teams to perform tasks.

Each of these three contextual elements may constrain or improve the impact of the team functions on effectiveness. The benefit of team leader focusing on:

  1. Effort is sensible only if team leaders have a significant level of control over work inputs (for example, supply, material, resources etc,)
  2. Strategy is sensible only if they have some degree of autonomy in how they do their work. Empowerment, adopting a theory y approach and a flexible or organic organisational structure are essential to achieve team effectiveness.
  3. KSAs make sense only if the team's task is complex and unpredictable.

The particular mix of contextual factors present in an organisation indicates the importance of team leaders focusing on one, some, or all of the critical team functions. For example, consider a store inventory team (SIT) working in retailer such as Wal-Mart, Best-Buy and so on. This team's primary responsibilities include unloading delivery trucks, cataloguing inventory as it is unloaded, and organizing, storing and placing inventory.

SITs do not control what is delivered or when it is delivered (no control over work input), as it is determined by inventory availability, customer demand, and delivery logistics. Therefore, SIT leaders would gain little advantage by focusing on work inputs. On the other hand, most SITs have flexibility (that is autonomy) regarding the strategy they employ in accomplishing their job once inventory arrives at the stores. Thus, SITs leaders would contribute more to increasing team effectiveness by focusing on strategy.

Therefore, team leaders must take responsibility for diagnosing their organisation's contextual matrix to help them identify the appropriate leadership strategy to pursue. Regardless of whether organisation context factors facilitate or restrain specific team functions, current team support systems will play an important role in team effectiveness (Sundstorm, 1999).

Team Support Systems

In order to maximise effectiveness, teams need organisational support from several key systems. Sundstorm et al, (1999), identify these systems as a “structure compatible with team work; leaders' roles that foster cooperation; complementary systems for selection, measurement, information, training and compensation; and facilities with communication technology that facilitates needed interaction within and among teams” p.4. Sundstorm and colleagues (1999) also argue that support systems must be implemented and also meet the needs of specific types of teams. Thus, the management challenge is to design, implement, and maintain organisational support systems to meet the needs of the type of team, with flexibility to accommodate each team‘s unique features. There are four essential support systems necessary for promoting team effectiveness.

1. Team Staffing

Team staffing is an important aspect to contribute to effectiveness because it ensures that team members have an appropriate blend of experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities. In addition, it also entails if the organisation's human resource department is performing their functions, such as recruitment and selection effectively.

A team leader may be recognised for his or her relationship-oriented and tactful leadership style, but if his or her team members lack of experience, or KSAs in working with teams to perform the task, the team will definitely not be successful. For example, some new product development project teams require team members with expertise in marketing, sales, engineering, manufacturing and product development (Sarin and Mahajan, 2001). Those responsible for staffing must focus on creating a team with complementary skills in each of those areas, as opposed to simply staffing the team with five intelligent, individually effective people. During the selection process, organisations should perform a teamwork skill assessment and Belbin team roles test to make sure that team members have the KSAs to work in teams.

However, if team staffing is not possible due to the type of team or any other factors, other support systems such as training can fill KSA gaps among team members.

2. Training

Team members who require additional knowledge and skills are often exposed to training. In fact, team training is widely used (Bassi, Cheney, and Van Buren, 1997) and has benefited organisations adopting team-based structures such as Motorola AND Xerox (Gronstedt, 1996; Henkoff, 1993, respectively).

Stevens and Yarish (1999) analysed the use of team training during the implementation of teams at a copper refinery and they have found that the training support system at the refinery has created multiple training modules around different facets of teamwork which are mainly:

Thus, training support system is also very important in promoting team effectiveness.

For instance, cross-training provides team members a greater understanding of how their tasks are inter-reliant, rising the team's flexibility and improving response time.

3. Measurement and Feedback

Team leaders must know how their teams are doing in order to provide the support they need for improvement or continued success. Moreover, Pritchard and Watson (1991) have demonstrated in their research that team effectiveness increases when team members are given feedback on objective measures of their performance.

Measurement systems not only provide information for teams to improve performance, they also provide tangible examples of success in which teams can take pride. This motivational aspect of feedback is very important and should be considered when measurement and feedback are designed.

Team leaders must also decide what feedback is most relevant to their team based on business strategy and team motivation. Timely and proper delivered feedback can formulate the distinction between a team that conceals mistakes and a team that observes mistakes as opportunities. Besides, team leaders will increase their impact on overall effectiveness when they link team performance to rewards.

4. Rewards

Organisations with team-based reward systems are far more prepared to support team effectiveness. Depending on their position within the organisation, team leaders may or may not have influence regarding the reward structure used by their organisation. However, team leaders may have discretion regarding bonuses and other incentives.

Rewards system should consist of incentives that the team value (expectancy theory) in order to achieve team performance and effectiveness. Similar to staffing, training, and measurement and feedback, reward support system should be tailored to specific types of teams (Sundstorm, 1999).

Team Type

The third contingency that team leaders must consider when developing their leadership strategy is recognising the dynamics of the type of team they led. Different teams, based on their primary tasks and responsibilities, interact differently with the three organisation context variables (task design, autonomy, input control), and four team support systems (staffing, training, measurement/feedback, and rewards).

For example, in a scenario where a management team's task are highly complex and it has a strong staffing support function, focusing on team member KSAs would likely contribute significantly to team effectiveness. Therefore, the key leadership challenge is the continuous process of assessing the organisation context, team support systems and team type in order to determine the effective team functions.

Discussion and Critical Analysis

Larson and LaFasto (1989) studied real-life successful teams and found that regardless of the type of team, eight characteristics were consistently associated with team excellence, thus, according to them, effective team leadership strategy does not depend on types of team as all teams have those eight characteristics in common.

Furthermore, the information receive from organisation context, team support system and team type are highly complex, that they do not provide easy answers to difficult decisions for the leader. Again due to its high complexity, the directions for leadership training are vague, complex, and somewhat overwhelming. The long list of team leadership skills makes it difficult to know where to start (Peter G. Northouse, 2007).

The strategic contingency model of team leadership focuses on leadership behaviour guided by team functions and task performance. However, the model fails to consider the individual and team personality or interpersonal issues as well as the leadership style and skills as these also important to develop effective leadership strategy.

Individual and Team Personality or Interpersonal issues

Effective team leadership is based on leadership style and the ability of the leader to address the multiple interpersonal demands that exist in team settings (Burke Cooper 2006). Therefore, to develop effective team leadership strategy, a team leader must ensure that individual team members are comfortable with themselves. Only after achieving that stage, a team leader can move to the next level interpersonal.

At the interpersonal level, a team leader needs to understand and solve interpersonal issues within the team. Interpersonal issues may include for example, team personality and ego; team members are unique individuals with different needs and personalities.

Thus, the team leader needs to develop effective strategies, for example, strong leadership style, and good communication system to solve those interpersonal problems so as to achieve team effectiveness.

John Adair (2003) in his three interrelated circle model indicates that the broad functions of strategic leadership are Task, Team and Individual. Nevertheless, the strategic contingency model of team leadership has concentrated on three team functions related to task performance, not including the individual.

Besides, it is only after achieving the two stages (individual and interpersonal level) that team leaders will attain synergy and develop effective team leadership strategy.

Leadership Approach: Style, Preferences and Skills

Team leadership can be accomplished in many different ways, depending in part on the leader's own style, preferences, and skills. The fact that individual differences among team leaders are irrelevant to their leadership effectiveness (Salas, Kosarzycki, Tannenbaum & Carnegie, 2004) is misleading. To the contrary, the quality of the team leadership provided depends heavily on: (a) the accuracy and completeness of the leader's mental model of what it takes to help a team succeed; (b) the leader's skill in executing the behaviours required by his or her mental model; and (c) the leader's ability to gather the lessons of experience to expand and deepen his or her knowledge base and skill set.

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Leaders Mental Model

Effective team performance begins with the leader's mental model of the situation that guides actions. That is, what factors most strongly affect how teams behave and what interventions are most likely to help them succeed (Stockton, Morran & Clark, 2004). Leaders' mental models almost always are of the input-process-output variety, in that they specify the factors that causally shape the group interactions that then drive performance outcomes (Hackman, 1987, pp. 319-322). An example would be a model that identifies homogeneity of membership as causal of harmonious group interaction which, in turn, fosters group productivity.

Leadership Skills

It is not sufficient for those who lead work teams merely to have a reasonably complete and accurate leadership model; they also need ample skills in behaving in accordance with the dictates of their model (Gist & McDonald-Mann, 2000). Two kinds of skills are critical to effective team leadership: diagnostic skills and behavioural skills.

Diagnostic Skills

Diagnostic skills means when the leader is in a position to craft interventions that have a reasonable chance of narrowing the gap between the real situations to the ideal situations (McGrath, 1962, pp. 13-14). Team leaders should have the skills to summarise the factors ‘what is happening' in the team compared it to what the leader believes ‘should be happening' in the team (leaders mental model).

Behavioural Skills

Behavioural skills include: monitoring and control, feedback, training, coaching etc. Behavioural skills are similar to Hackman and Walton (1986), execution skills, which means taking appropriate action to narrow the gap between a team's present reality and what could it be.

The teaching of diagnostic and behavioural skills is also necessarily personalized and for that reason, it is labour intensive, time consuming, and expensive. But it is a critical ingredient in the mix that makes for effective team leadership.

Learning by Experience

To develop an effective leadership strategy, a team leader should also have a good track record, experience and a solid approach to team leadership. Leaders learn from experience working from different teams, as well as learn from their failure and error; the bigger the mistake, the greater the opportunities for the team leaders to learn.

Leading a team well also requires a considerable degree of emotional maturity in dealing with one's own and others' anxieties. Emotionally mature leaders are willing and able to move toward anxiety-arousing states of affairs in the interest of learning about them rather than moving away to get anxieties reduced as quickly as possible.

Emotional maturity may be better viewed as a long-term developmental task for a leader's life than something that can be systematically taught. Such learning involves working on real problems in safe environments with the explicit encouragement and support of others who themselves also are learning how to deal with emotions effectively.

Leadership Style and Power

Appropriate leadership style and power are also important to develop an effective team strategy. Apart from the functional approach, contingency theories, emphasising that a leader should be in a position to adapt his/her behaviour and take actions according to different situation, and a transformational approach to leadership, emphasising that team leaders will inspire and motivate their team members by selling their vision and acting as a skilful coach are also very important to develop team leadership strategy. In addition, making use of utilitarian power is also important to develop an effective team leadership strategy.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The report has provided a balance view on the statement that Burke and Cooper (2006) made. It has supported the statement by formulating a strategic contingency model of team leadership. The model of leadership allows team leaders to recognise the dynamics of the type of team they lead, organisational context factors, and support systems affecting their team. Then, considering these contingencies, they must identify the most appropriate strategic course of actions by focusing on one, two or all the critical team functions.

However, the model focuses on leader behaviour guided by team function and task performance. It fails to recognise the importance of the individual, considered by John Adair to be one of the interrelated factors of strategic leadership function. In addition, team leader need to understand the interpersonal issues of team members first in order to achieve team effectiveness. The model also focuses on functional approach and has ignored how contingency theories and transformational theories are also important in developing effective team leadership strategy. The model in addition also fails to recognise that the team leaders' behaviour can also be guided by their leadership style, applying a mix ingredient of diagnostic and behavioural skills, their coaching ability, good track record and experience. The models have also emphasize on task performance and did not show the leaders' mental model and emotional maturity guide their behaviour and actions as well as contribute to the viability element in achieving team effectiveness.

Thus, to develop an effective team leadership strategy, the key contingencies; organisation context, team support systems and team type are important. However, a team leader should also take into account the individual, team personality, leadership skills, style, experience and mental models.


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