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The Interface of Leadership and Team Processes

Several fundamental features define typical organizational teams. First, effective performance derives from coordinated and synchronized actions by multiple individuals who share responsibility for team outcomes (Sundstrom, 1999). Team members have specific and often unique roles, and their performance of these roles directly influences collective success. To succeed, then, the team as a whole needs to integrate the accomplishment of these roles. Accordingly, team performance may often be impaired not because individual members lack requisite task abilities but rather because, as a team, they fail to combine and coordinate their individual capabilities and contributions effectively in collective action.

Second, organizational teams, particularly those at higher organizational levels, often need to perform in complex and dynamic environments. This requirement heightens the need for team members to coordinate their individual actions, particularly as performance domains become decidedly adverse.
Furthermore, team members often need to anticipate environmental changes and be able to respond, proactively or reactively, to their contingencies.

Finally, in most organizational teams, even those considered as predominantly self-managing, certain individuals occupy leadership roles in which they have primary responsibility for team effectiveness. Although the nature of leadership performance requirements changes at different levels, fundamental leadership responsibilities include defining collective goals and strategies and structuring the unit to accomplish them (Zaccaro, 2001). Likewise, effective team processes will enhance the conduct and effectiveness of these leadership tasks. For example, cohesive teams with highly expert or experienced members can take over several leadership functions, leaving their formal leaders more time and resources for external team outreach. Thus, successful organizational team performance depends jointly on effective team and leadership processes.

These points suggest that an important research goal in organizational science should be to understand how leadership and team processes are coordinated to enhance collective success in organizations. However, although there exist large theoretical and empirical literatures on both leadership (Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1994) and team-group dynamics (Forsyth, 1990; McGrath, 1984), we still know relatively little about how leaders create and direct team processes to achieve collective success. Hackman and Walton (1986) noted, for example, that “we have not found among existing leadership theories that deals to our satisfaction with the leadership of task-performing groups in organizations”. Similarly, Kozlowski, Gully, Salas, and CannonBowers (1996) stated, 
Although there are substantial literatures in both [the team development and leadership] areas (e.g., Levine & Moreland, 1990; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992), existing models are limited in their ability to provide prescriptions to guide team leadership and to enhance team development.
Likewise, many models of team effectiveness tend to ignore leadership processes altogether (Hirokawa, 1980). Otherwise, such processes are specified merely as one of several drivers of team performance (Gladstein, 1984; Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). We would argue, though, that leadership processes serve as one of the most crucial determinants of team effectiveness, particularly in organizations in which leaders are likely to be formally established as the center of key system dynamics. These observations point to the need for conceptual models of collective performance that integrate both leadership influences and team dynamics.

This special issue of Group& Organization Management is devoted to an examination of the interface of leadership and team processes. Our goal is to stimulate an exploration of how these two sets of fundamental organizational processes are entwined in determining collective success. We do not seek here to present a comprehensive model or theory; instead, we provide in this introduction an admittedly limited set of relationships that are likely to exist among team and leadership processes and performance. For this volume, we selected six articles, some conceptual and some empirical, that illustrate one or more of these relationships. Before introducing these articles, we first define what we mean by the interface of leadership and team processes. We present possible relationships that can exist between leadership and team processes. We then describe how the six articles in this issue appear to consider one or more of these relationships.

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What do we mean by the interface of leadership and team processes? Simply, we refer to the various ways that leadership and team processes become intertwined so as to influence collective performance. At its basic level, this interface can refer to the direct effect of each set of processes on performance (e.g., leadership processes influencing team performance; team processes influencing leader effectiveness). At a higher level, leadership and team processes can affect one another and be affected by prior collective performance.

At the most complex level, leadership and team processes can be inextricably integrated such that the boundaries of each set of processes become fairly indistinct. We suspect such is the case in highly successful self-managing teams, particularly at higher organizational levels. Thus, we can characterize the leadership-team interface in many ways.

The articles selected for this special issue cover three basic connections between leadership and team processes how leadership influences team processes, how leadership influences team performance, and how team processes influence leadership processes. We will describe these forms of leader-team interface and then indicate how the selected articles discuss these connections.

Leadership processes influence team performance. A functional perspective of leadership argues for a direct link between leadership and team performance (Fleishman, Mumford, Zaccaro, Levin, & Hein, 1991; Hackman & Walton, 1986; Lord, 1977; Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman, 2000). Indeed, Hackman and Walton (1986) noted:
The key assertion in the functional approach to leadership is that “the leader’s main job is to do, or get done, whatever is not being adequately handled for group needs” (McGrath, 1962, p. 5). If a leader manages, by whatever means, to ensure that all functions critical to both task accomplishment and group maintenance are adequately taken care of, then the leader has done his or her job well.
This perspective argues that the leader’s major responsibility to the team is to facilitate its progress toward goal attainment and successful performance. This principle lies at the heart of path-goal theories of leadership (House, 1971; House & Dessler, 1974). Leaders improve team effectiveness by establishing performance goals, setting individual and collective expectations, assigning members to roles, providing and developing personnel and materialresourcestotheteam, and eliminating obstaclesto effective performance.

Leaders also act as boundary spanners for the team, facilitating the alignment between the team and its operating environment.

Leaders also facilitate team performance by engaging in “collective self-regulation” processes (Kane, 1996). Leaders monitor progress toward team goals and make adjustments in team plans when necessary. They are also usually the main purveyor of feedback to the team regarding goal progress.

Leadership processes influence team processes. Although leadership processes may have a direct effect on team performance, their larger influence may be in fostering more effective interactions among team members by facilitating various team processes. Zaccaro, Rittman, and Marks (2001) describe how leaders affect four components of team processes: cognitive, motivational, affective, and coordination. Leaders facilitate the emergence of effective shared team mental models (cf. Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994) by making sense of the team’s performance environment and conveying that sense to team members (Burke, 1999; Marks, Zaccaro, & Mathieu, 2000). Team leaders also facilitate the information-processing activities engaged by the team as it accomplishes its task. One such process that is critical for team performance in complex environments is “collective metacognition.” It represents individual and collective reflection on how members constructed team problems, evaluated possible solutions, and implemented selected solutions. As Zaccaro (2001) noted: 
This is a difficult process to initiate and to complete successfully. When a team has succeeded at a task, members may not see the need for reflecting upon collective information processing and interaction patterns. When a team fails, members are more likely to engage in such reflection, but it may be focused on fixing blame, resulting in negative consequences for subsequent team cohesion and efficacy. The team leader needs to manage this process so that it occurs when necessary, but is a constructive exercise that strengthens the team.

Similarly, amajor task of team leadership is tomotivate and energize team members to work hard on behalf of the team (i.e., to facilitate team motivational processes) (Hackman & Walton, 1986; Jesuino, 1996). Leaders can do so by facilitating the emergence of team cohesion and the team’s sense of collective efficacy (Kozlowski et al., 1996). The latter refers to the team’s collective belief that it can complete a particular task successfully. These team properties increase the likelihood that team members will chose to devote collective resources to task success (Zaccaro et al., 1997).

Zaccaro et al. (2001) also argue that effective leadership processes contribute to the modulation of collective affective in teams under stress. Leaders can reduce collective-felt stress by defining threats as opportunities (cf. Dutton & Jackson, 1987) and by increasing social support and cohesion among team members (Ganster, Fusilier, & Mayes, 1986). Research has shown that a positive mood among team members will foster more cooperation, more participation, less conflict, and stronger social cohesion. Collective negative moods result in more internal conflict and less willingness by team members to work with each other (i.e., participate in team activities).

The result is the impairment of motivational and coordination processes in teams and lower group performance (George, 1995). Affective climate also affects group information processing. Collective positive mood increases the amount of information that is processed in teams, as well as the creativity of member contributions. Although few, if any, studies have examined the role of leadership on these processes, we would speculate that team leaders contribute significantly to the affective climate of the group by modeling positive affective states, encouraging or counseling members who display negative affect, and preventing cognitive conflict (i.e., differences in ideas) among team members from evolving into affective conflict (Zaccaro, 2001).

Finally, leaders influence team coordination processes in several ways (Kozlowski et al., 1996). First, they identify and integrate the contributions from team members that are most likely to contribute to task success. Second, they provide training, instruction, and opportunities for team members to learn the roles and tasks that need to be integrated into effective teamwork.

The focus is not as much on learning individual roles but rather on developing the interaction patterns necessary for team success. Finally, the team leader needs to develop mechanisms in the team that regulate and standardize these patterns. Ideally, once these are established, they are reinforced by the team members themselves as they monitor their joint actions. When team circumstances require nonroutine interactions, then team leaders may need to reconsider team resources, recombine them into more viable coordination patterns, and reorient team regulation mechanisms (Kozlowski et al., 1996).

Team processes influence leadership processes. Our focus thus far has been on leadership influences on team processes and performance. However, team processes can have a powerful influence on the practice of team leadership. For example, a high level of distributed expertise in teams can contribute to the boundary-spanning and sense-making activities required of organizational leaders (Jacobs & Jaques, 1987; Zaccaro, 2001). Such expertise among team members may also contribute to the leader’s problem-construction, solution-generation, and solution-evaluation activities in complex problem situations (Zaccaro, 2001). Likewise, other properties of team members and of the group as a whole can substitute or take the place of leadership processes. Kerr and Jermier (1978) noted, for example, that subordinate experience and professional orientation can substitute for supportive and instrumental leadership. Group cohesion can also act as a substitute for both of these forms of leadership. In essence, when these team properties exist, they alter the practice of leadership within the team.


The six articles in this special issue focus on one or more of these linkages.
Three of the articles provide a conceptual perspective on the leader-team interface, whereas the remaining offer empirical studies of this relationship.

The first article, by Bell and Kozlowski, examines leadership and team processes in virtual teams, or teams in which members are not located in the same physical setting. They offer several other dimensions of virtual teams and discuss how team properties would influence the practice of team leadership. They also offer a number of prescriptions and propositions regarding effective leadership in teams. Among other things, this article is particularly useful because it meets the need for significant conceptual work on virtual teams and their leadership.

The second article, by O’Connell, Doverspike, and Cober, describes a field study of leadership influences on the performance of semiautonomous work teams. Leadership processes examined in this study include problemsolving activities, setting performance standards and rules, and overall team leadership. The criteria linked to these processes were team productivity and quality. This study also examined the moderating influences of team size on the leadership-team performance relationship. Thus, this article provides some empirical data on the leadership-performance link and how such relationships might be influenced by certain properties of the team.

The third article, by Sivasubramaniam, Murry, Avolio, and Jung also examines the influence of leadership processes on team performance but includes team processes as a mediator of this relationship. Furthermore, their study is a longitudinal examination of this relationship, allowing for an examination of how team processes and properties can influence subsequent leadership. They focus on transformational leadership processes such as establishing a clear focus or vision for the team and developing the full potential of team members. They examine the influence of these processes on the 
development of team potency, or the team’s sense of its own competence (Shea & Guzzo, 1987), as well as on measures of team performance. Thus, Sivasubramaniam et al., capture several possible connections, direct, indirect, and reciprocal, among leadership processes, team processes, and team performance.

The fourth article, by Hawkins and Tolzin, uses baseball teams to examine leadership and team properties in postmodern organizations. In particular, they describe a team process of “jamming,” or “highly rule-governed, structured activities in which little or no personal information is exchanged, yet important goals may be accomplished, and a strong ecstatic bond is formed among participants” (Eisenberg, 1990, p. 146). We interpret this phenomenon as the attainment of a particularly strong sense of coordinated action and free-flowing integration among team members. Hawkins and Tolzin emphasize the role of the leader in creating the conditions for jamming to occur.

The fifth article, by Komaki and Minnich, examines the influence of leadership activities on member coordination during an interdependent team task. In particular, they focus on how the patterns of leadership changed as a function of task dynamics. This article, then, provides an illustration of how leaders influence team member coordination during different phases of task requirements—it provides a more fine-grained analysis of leader-team dynamics during the course of a team performance episode.

The final article, a conceptual one by Cole, Schaninger, and Harris, examines social exchange dynamics among an individual employee and the leader, organization, and work group (described as the “workplace social exchange network”). This integrated network of multiple exchange relationships influences the team member’s individual outcomes. Cole et al. also examine how organizational structure variables might moderate some of these social exchanges. Thus, this article provides a multiple-level perspective of the leader-team interface.

These articles, as a set, offer a variety of conceptual and empirical perspectives on the interface of leadership and team processes. They include virtual and traditional teams. They study teams in industrial work settings, classroom settings, and athletic settings. They examine action teams, production teams, and project teams (cf. Sundstrom, 1999). They focus on multiple
kinds of interfaces among leadership processes, team processes, and team performance. Thus, we believe they provide a good start toward expanding our understanding of the interface between leadership and team processes.

We note that this is only a start. Despite the breadth of these articles as a set, they do not cover many other dimensions of the leader-team interface.

For example, they do not generally cover how leadership and team processes interact to influence team performance, although some conceptual ideas are offered (e.g., Bell & Kozlowski, 2002 [this issue]) and one study examines team size as a moderator of leadership influence (O’Connell, Doverspike, & Cober, 2002 [this issue]). Likewise, the predominant focus among these articles is on the unidirectional influence of leadership on team processes and performance (although there are exceptions: e.g., Komaki & Minnich [this issue]).

A comprehensive framework of the leadership-team interface should include the reciprocal relationships that can occur between these two sets of processes. Nonetheless, these articles provide a number of valuable avenues for further discourse and research. We hope they stimulate future empirical and conceptual efforts.

In closing, we would like to thank the authors of these articles for their thoughts, efforts, and contributions to this special issue. We would also like to thank the editor of Group & Organization Management, P. Christopher Earley, and his staff for their assistance in providing us an outlet to begin defining and exploring these ideas.

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass and Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.
Burke, C. S. (1999). Examination of the cognitive mechanisms through which team leaders promote effective team processes and adaptive performance. Unpublished dissertation.
Dutton, J. E., & Jackson, S. E. (1987). Categorizing strategic issues: Links to organizational action. Academy of Management Review, 12, 76-90.