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What is the case for shared Leadership?

It is now a common approach for organizations to solve problems by forming teams of experts from different functions and maybe even different geographic regions.

Teams are defined as: Any unit of two or more people who are brought together and committed to serve some significant organizational purpose for which they hold themselves accountable.

Traditionally these teams have an assigned team leader and the team members either report directly to the team leader or sometimes only report as a “dotted-line relationship”, while remaining tied to their functional or regional bosses. Regardless of the administrative team leader reporting relationship, our research shows that teams that are dominated by the team leader perform less effectively than those teams who operate in a culture of shared team leadership.

When a team shares leadership they collectively define the skills and knowledge required by the team; they recruit team members with these competencies; and then they assign the team’s tasks accordingly. If a team member is a marketing expert and a team task is to design a new product line it would make no sense to assign him to lead the design team. However, he should participate in some design team decisions to ensure the team doesn’t design a product that won’t sell. As opposed to authoritatively imposing her will on the team, the role of the assigned team leader on a team that shares leadership is to ensure the right people are assigned to team tasks, that decisions are made and milestones. met. She may facilitate decision-making or resolve conflicts that are escalated, but most important, she work to ensure a culture of collaboration among these bands of experts.

Our research in a wide variety of industries with top executive teams white-collar professional teams and the blue-collar product teams show that those who practice some form of collaborative or shared leaderships have more efficient decision-making, better productivity, fewer safety issues and overall better “employee engagement” survey scores.

Is there any downside to shared team leadership? Yes. It takes time for a team of experts to learn how to communicate, collaborate and resolve the conflicts. In addition, stakeholders e.g. or team member’s functional boss, may give the team member “marching orders” that create tension for other team members who may want to move in a different direction. Finally, if team members come from countries such as China, France or Venezuela where there is a country culture of centralized decision-making it may be more difficult for a team member to adapt to a more equalitarian decision-making process that shared team leadership requires.

At the end of the day, shared team leadership is our alternative leadership style that should be implemented only if it is appropriate to the task and the people involved.


Lynda McDermott

Lynda is honored to be one of over 570
Certified Speaking Professionals
in the United States


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