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Harvard Prof.: Team Trumps Solo Leadership


As leaders struggle with growing pressures in today’s fast-paced workplace, a change is being made in the way leadership responsibilities are distributed within organizations

As leaders struggle with growing pressures in todayís fast-paced workplace, a change is being made in the way leadership responsibilities are distributed within organizations. Shared team leadership is the new approach that is influencing the way team members operate.

As Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Fellow J. Richard Hackman, Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, says, ìThe heroic single leader is no longer congruent with the burdening demands of todayís leadership.î Fortunately, he says, scholars and practitioners are recognizing that a shift is taking place within the work force from traditional solo team leadership to shared team leadership.

ìThe most important conditions for effective shared team leadership include a team that is a mature and reasonably bounded group,î Hackman says. ìThey must know each otherís 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.î

Hackman has been researching teamwork for several decades and, 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.

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

ìResearch has shown that shared team leadership is like an audio amplifier,î Hackman says. ìIf 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.î