Given that in this course we are charged with 2 team assignments, one that we’ve already completed earlier in the course (and the other which will be due at the end of next week), I’ve focused on this week’s lesson of team leadership for the purpose of this blog entry. To begin, it is important to reflect upon the previous team assignment to identify areas of possible needs for change to achieve the team goal of an excellent performance evaluation. A few possible areas of needed improvement might be with communication, commitment, and power struggles, but how do we address these? This course is a virtual course and the teams are virtually based—with each member of the team(s) dispersed geographically throughout the United States (and in some instances, dispersing them globally. The very nature of virtual teams creates barriers to effective teamwork that are not well examined empirically (Northouse, 2016). Therefore, finding solutions to possible conflicts in a virtual team may not be easy.
Northouse (2016) notes that virtual teams tend to have faster response rates due to “flatter organizational structures” in comparison to the typical hierarchical leadership environments (p.363). This is due to virtual teams’ need to rely on instantaneous communication technology such as e-mail, messaging applications, telephone calls, video conferences, text messages, and text messages to keep in touch with one another (Northouse, 2016). Our teams in this coursework collaboratively for each team assignment over a week’s time. To build cohesive teams, we need to communicate often during the week of our assignments, communicate during the ‘off-time’ that we are not working on our team assignments, or attempt to speedily regain our bearings as a group once the team assignments come around. The latter can lead teams to rush through the group stages after reforming (PSU, 2018), leave very little time to focus on performing tasks for the assignment itself, and may increase anxieties about team performance (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014).
To give our team(s) a chance to get ahead of any potential problems arising from rushing the group stages, I’ve done a little research to help us all achieve the best results our teams can within next week’s team assignment. My first thoughts when considering where to start with my research was our purpose in this course and how it may affect our teams. It is likely that each of us chose to take this course in order to brush up on our leadership skills. Would it be safe to say that each of us recognizes within ourselves the ability to lead? Can it be assumed that we all want to learn how to become better leaders? And is it appropriate to presume that on some level (whether it be a novice or an expert level), we find enjoyment in leading?
I answered yes to each of the above questions. I, of course, have no evidence to back up these assumptions aside from the fact that we’re all here in this course for a reason, to learn about and enhance our skills in leadership… but please bear with me here. So, assuming we’re all here because we know it’s likely that at some point in our future, it will help our careers to have a good foundation of leadership skills, but we also recognize we need practice. This assumption gives us a decent base perspective to build upon. Now, take the fact that we’re all in a leadership course… apply this to our teams. Likely, each one of us has some area of leadership we currently exceed within. Not to mention, while completing our first assignment, it’s likely that each of us attempted to practice our newly learned leadership skills during our team assignments. By doing this, we’ve attempted to practice our leadership skills on one another… without being directed to handle the situation in any particular way. Is this a recipe for disaster? Possibly. We’re all taking what we’re learning and attempting trial and error to figure out what works best. Luckily, the team I am working with didn’t have any issues with conflict, but I’m guessing there may have been some developments of conflict on other teams during the previous team assignment. Or, maybe you’ve only noticed the lack of cohesion that is common in virtual teams but had an amicable encounter with your teammates.
The trouble is, the previous experiences many of us have had while working on virtual teams through World Campus did not focus on applying empirically supported approaches of leadership to virtual teams. From my experience, much of the teamwork completed prior to this course occurred in the same ways the team I belong to now completed our first assignment: we were assigned to a group, met to discuss how to divvy up portions of the assignment, reconvened later in the week to review our progress, edited the assignment, then submitted the assignment. The typical group stages, rules, and norms we use while working on teams in real life don’t seem to apply in the virtual world. So, to address the virtual issue, what if I told you to share leadership with your teammates next time around? According to the little research that has been done on virtual teams regarding leadership, it may be worth your time and effort as it’s been found to be highly effective to share leadership responsibility (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014).
Northouse (2016) noted that sharing team leadership allows each member to influence the team using the skills they’re best at for the best results of the team. Though risks of such an approach involve “courage from the member who steps forward to provide leadership outside the formal role,” the benefits such as “less conflict, more consensus, more trust, and more cohesion,” can easily outweigh the risks (Northouse, 2016, p.365) In addition, shared leadership also tends to lead to greater successes within virtual teams than attempting to assign a single leader to a team (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). According to Hoch & Kozlowski (2014), within a typical hierarchical leadership situation, transformational leadership and Leader-Member-Exchange (LMX) are two of the best leadership approaches for success. However, with a virtual team, it’s harder to establish a typical hierarchical leadership situation, so there needs to be a substitution(s) to take the place of an identified single leader (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). The geographical dispersion and troubles virtual teams face with creating cohesion and trust between one another leads to more time being spent on getting to know one another, requires more time for a leader to emerge (if not assigned)—which leads to less time to focus on the actual tasks the team is to be performing, and as a result, anxieties about performance increase and satisfaction of the team members tends to decrease substantially (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). Thus, shared leadership in virtual teams provides a potent substitution for hierarchical leadership situations and has the research findings to back it up (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014).
In addition to shared leadership in our virtual teams, Hoch & Kozlowski (2014) also found in their study that another factor of successful and effective teams is structural supports. Again, because our virtual teams have such a short time constraint for the completion of assignments and team members are geographically dispersed, we need a substitution for typical hierarchical leadership situations in order to be effective (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). Structural supports provide an additional substitution for the virtual team environment via task structure, information and resource management, coordination of communication, and the creation of routines (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). The problems of keeping team members motivated to complete tasks, coordinating communication, and clarifying roles and tasks within a virtual team can be overcome by equally distributing responsibilities to each member which leads to empowerment of team members through self-management (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). As Hoch & Kozlowski (2014) cited, “Team process researchers have distinguished cognitive, affective-motivational, and behavioral functions as keys to team effectiveness,” and these functions should be carried out using shared leadership to ensure each key function is attended to (Kozlowski & Bell, 2003; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).
We now have two ways that have been found to increase the effectiveness of virtual teams–shared leadership and structural supports, to help us during next week’s team assignment (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). Each were found by Hoch & Kozlowski (2014) to positively influence team performance in a virtual environment, but it’s important to note that there is still a need for team members to take the time to communicate with your teammates. The only way we can implement shared leadership and structural supports is by taking the time to communicate because often, it seems a week is not enough. A suggestion that I can give (and one that I am hoping the other team members I am working with will agree to) is to try to coordinate more synchronous work. Whether it be scheduling a half hour to work together each day, or an hour every other day, the more time spent working together the better the communication. The better the communication, the better the chances for effective teamwork during the asynchronous work periods in between, and a more effective team equates to a better performance evaluation.
Hoch, J.E., & Kozlowski, S.W.J. (2014). Leading virtual teams: Hierarchical leadership, structural supports, and shared team leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 99, No. 3, 390-403. Accessed October 17, 2018, from https://search-proquest-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/1221844262/fulltextPDF/88C4E8333CB248DFPQ/1?accountid=13158
Kozlowski, S.W.J., & Bell, B.S. (2003). Workgroups and teams in organizations. In W.C. Borman, D.R. Ilgen, & R.J. Klimoski (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychology: Industrial and organizational psychology. (pp.333-375). New York, NY: Wiley. As cited in Hoch & Kozlowski, (2014).
Kozlowski, S.W.J., & Ilgen, D.R. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7, 77-124. As cited in Hoch & Kozlowski, (2014).
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice, (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.
Pennsylvania State University (PSU). (2018). Lesson 9: Team leadership. PSYCH485: Leadership in Work Settings. Online course. Accessed October 17, 2018, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1942231/modules/items/25010865