Shared Leadership for Practitioners II: What are the benefits of Shared Leadership?
In this little three part series, I talk about Shared Leadership and its relevance for practitioners, for leaders in teams and companies. In the first part last week we talked about what Shared Leadership is, namely a distribution of leadership functions over several team members with the added advantage of achieving more and better leadership.
This week I will address the question: Why should you care? I will give a brief summary of recent findings from the scientific literature. We will address questions of outcomes like performance and commitment as well as the question whether Shared Leadership is better than vertical leadership.
Shared Leadership and Team Performance
One of the most investigated relationships is, not surprisingly, between Shared Leadership and team performance. Obviously, from a practical standpoint one of the main questions is whether Shared Leadership actually works or whether it is just another new and fancy selling point for consultants.
Scientific research has addressed this question in depth and these findings are nicely summarized in a recent meta-analysis by D’Innocenzo, Mathieu and Kukenberger (2014).
For those not familiar with the term meta-analysis, it is essentially meta-study in which several individual studies are summarized. Therefore, while a single study might suffer from any number of biases or random sampling errors that can cause its findings to be difficult to interpret or be taken seriously, a meta-analysis summarizes a wide range of studies. Meta-analytic findings are much stronger with regard to their validity and can be taken as a summary of an entire research field.
In this particular meta-analysis, the authors looked at 43 individual studies, which included a total of 3,198 teams and 16,010 individuals. Accordingly, we are looking at a very large sample of teams across a wide range of industries, including “automobile, social work, financial services, insurance, government, firefighting and aviation” (p. 13).
They find a small to medium association (correlation) between Shared Leadership and team performance.
Note: This means that teams who practice Shared Leadership show a higher level of performance compared to those that do not. This establishes a link between Shared Leadership and team performance.
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Shared Leadership and Team Efficiency
While our first meta-analysis only focusses on team performance, a second one goes beyond that and looks at a wider range of effects of Shared Leadership. This study by Wang, Waldmann and Zhang (2014) summarizes 40 studies with 3,439 teams and 32,616 team members. Specifically these authors were interested in four different categories of outcomes:
- Attitudinal outcomes such as higher levels of commitment, job satisfaction and lower levels of conflict.
- Behavioral states such as coordination, helping and cohesion in teams
- Subjective team performance, as rated by the team members or the supervisor.
- Objective team performance, as measured by actual sales or productivity.
Obviously, Wang et al (2014) already investigated performance, so we will skip these and concentrate on attitudinal and behavioral outcomes of Shared Leadership. Why are these important you might ask?
Well, getting teams and team members to work efficiently and to go “beyond” their plain job description is much more complex than just making sure team goals are achieved on time. In order to get the most out of employees their attitudes matter. Commitment and job satisfaction are essential to lower turnover and retain the knowledge, skills and abilities of team members (Tett & Meyer, 1993). At the same time, behaviors like helping and coordinating are essential to getting things done. Therefore, both are important secondary results of Shared Leadership that in their own right are able to boost teams.
The findings of Wang et al. (2014) confirm that Shared Leadership is connected to both of groups of outcomes. They find a medium-strong association between Shared Leadership and attitudes (0.45) as well as behavioral states (0.44).
Therefore, teams who practice Shared Leadership have better attitudes (such as commitment) and show better behaviors (such as helping) than teams who do not enact Shared Leadership.
Shared Leadership versus Classic Leadership
After these two rather large meta-analyses, one might conclude that Shared Leadership is vastly superior to classical leadership approaches and thus should replace it. However, that is not the case. A third meta-analysis by Nicolaides et al (2014) addresses, among other questions, whether Shared Leadership and classical leadership are complimentary and thus, support each other to achieve synergies and better outcomes or whether they are redundant. Replacing classical leadership by Shared Leadership would only make sense in the latter case and require the finding that Shared Leadership does everything classical leadership does, but better.
The authors found 52 studies to include in their meta-analysis. Of course, several of the same studies that were included in the other two meta-analyses above, were used here as well. However, since the question asked by the authors was different, this should not matter to the interpretation of results here. Unfortunately, the authors do not report the number of teams and team members; however, I assume that they are in a similar range as in the other two studies.
In their analysis, the authors contrast Shared Leadership and classical vertical leadership with regard to their relationship to team performance. This is done by analyzing the amount of variance of performance that both constructs explain separately and together. Now, what does this mean? The analysis of variance can be compared to a very simple example.
Let’s say two people are pushing a cart up a hillside. The speed of the moving cart is our performance here and we could potentially measure how much force each person is applying to the cart. Thus, if the cart is moving at 3km/h and Person A is contributing enough force for 1km/h while the second person is contributing enough force for 2km/h we could clearly attribute the amount of variance in the speed/performance of the cart and say that Person A is responsible for 33% of the variance. Of course, in a social context, we are never able to explain the entire variance of something as complex as teamwork because so many effect interact with each other that we cannot measure them all.
In this study 16,5% of the variance of team performance could be explained by Shared Leadership and Vertical Leadership together (which is pretty good). Furthermore, the analysis also showed that these two behaviors do not replace each other but rather are complimentary, meaning that Shared Leadership does things vertical leadership does not and vice versa and it is therefore recommended to have both in teams and not focus on one of the two. In numbers, vertical leadership alone explained 10,8% of team performance and Shared Leadership added another 5,7% over and beyond while Shared Leadership alone only explained 12,2% of performance. There is some overlap between the two behaviors, as to be expected, but the strongest effect can be achieved by combining them.
To sum up: While the field of Shared Leadership research is still quite young and the number of studies is limited, there is a strong consensus among researchers that Shared Leadership is associated with higher levels of performance, better cooperative behaviors and better attitudes of the team members. Therefore, from a practical view, it makes a lot of sense on trying to establish Shared Leadership in work teams in order to maximize team effectiveness. Furthermore, research also shows that shared and vertical leadership do complement each other and together can achieve more than separate. Thus, formal leaders are still needed to get the most out of teams. Not surprisingly, the influence of the formal leader on Shared Leadership development will be one of the foci of next week’s article, so stay tuned.
Have a great week!
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
Nicolaides, V. C., LaPort, K. A., Chen, T. R., Tomassetti, A. J., Weis, E. J., Zaccaro, S. J., & Cortina, J. M. (2014). The shared leadership of teams: A meta-analysis of proximal, distal, and moderating relationships. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 923–942. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2014.06.006
Tett, R. P., & Meyer, J. P. (1993). Job satifscation, organizational commitment, turnover intention, and turnover: Path analyses based on meta-analytic findings. Personnel Psychology, 46, 259–292.
Wang, D., Waldman, D. A., & Zhang, Z. (2014). A meta-analysis of shared leadership and team effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(2), 181–198.