Maximising Team Effectiveness through Shared Leadership

The conventional structure of leadership distribution within organisations has traditionally placed an emphasis on the role of the manager.  Responsible for driving the direction, progress and outcomes of their teams, managers bear the brunt of fulfilling the complex and ambiguous needs of an organisation.  Hierarchical power distribution, often referred to as Vertical Leadership, may no longer be the most feasible solution to meeting the challenging and shifting organisational landscape.  The evolving corporate climate has welcomed the emergence of a more progressive approach known as Shared Leadership.
The shared leadership model has introduced a ‘flattened’ and well-rounded approach to organisational structuring and embodies the evolving modern preference for a dynamic and flexible workforce.  Many organisations remain reluctant to abandon their hierarchies, but research has shown that shared leadership is a stronger predictor of team effectiveness than vertical leadership.

What is Shared Leadership?

In sharing leadership, the authority and decision-making responsibilities are spread amongst teams of individuals, rather than assigned to a formal leader.  Teams determine their collective direction and purpose and are predominantly self-managing. Managers and supervisors no longer offer influence and authority; instead, they are regarded as resources, offering coaching and guidance.  This dispersion of responsibility fosters a feeling of shared ownership and purpose, and encourages individuals to consider themselves as essential parts of a whole.

However, it is important to distinguish that shared leadership differs from simple delegation or teamwork.  Shared leadership places a greater emphasis on the diffusion of responsibility, and is more than collaboration or task distribution.  This approach aligns well with earlier ‘Managing by Objectives’ practices as outlined by Peter Drucker, whereby employees are given broad SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals to achieve but no detailed outline on how best to achieve them.  The subsequent modernisation of this process by incorporating a horizontal leadership structure has placed even greater emphasis on employee autonomy and authority.
A primary objective and pillar of the shared leadership model is the active advancement and expansion of individual strengths and skills.  Within these self-managed teams, individuals are encouraged to volunteer for leadership positions and work autonomously on tasks based on their personal expertise and capabilities.  Different people are encouraged to take control of various tasks, allowing individual strengths to flourish.

Research suggests that in nurturing this internal leadership culture, organisations place themselves at a competitive advantage.  In cultivating strengths and enhancing social capital, shared leadership increases team performance and consequently leads to increased team productivity.

The Competitive Advantages of Shared Leadership

1.    Increased commitment
Each and every team member is held accountable for the collective success of their teams.  Employees therefore tend to invest more into their work and feel a greater sense of purpose and ownership.  Shared leadership instills the same teamwork mentality cultivated in team sports.  If an individual does not pull their weight, they must answer to their peers and coworkers, not a manager.  This sense of team pride and team commitment results in increased output and quality of work.  This effect can be diminished in large teams where social loafing (employees not putting in equal effort) may occur.  Maximise commitment by keeping teams small and focused on the task at hand.

2.    Intellectual resources
With more people involved in internal leadership practices, companies have a broader base of knowledge, experience and expertise to draw on, giving them an intellectual advantage over their competitors.  Individuals are encouraged to view themselves as resources, rather than managers and subordinates.  As team members take the initiative to lead projects and tasks that are in-line with their competencies and talents, this allows team knowledge to grow.  This broader knowledge base also enhances a team’s performance in the face of complex and ambiguous tasks. If subject matter experts do decide to move on to other roles or companies, the organisation can retain more of the intellectual capital that would have been lost during the handover process.

3.    Openness to influence
In shared leadership teams, employees learn to trust, respect and collaborate with each another to reach a mutual objective.  Team members need to rely on developing through others, as extending knowledge is vital for the success of a shared leadership team. In accepting and even relying on the influence and motivation of their coworkers, team members adapt to an environment where they are challenged and supported in the pursuit of a shared purpose.

A Successful Shared Leadership Structure

Whilst shared leadership can, and does, increase team effectiveness and subsequent team performance, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  Successful implementation may not be a seamless transition, as this requires collective hard work and commitment to change.  If successful, a shared leadership team should consist of the following characteristics:

  • Active recognition of team member contributions
  • Trusting environment in which team members encourage and challenge one another
  • A self-managed team with an external mentor or supervisor
  • A collectively defined direction and shared purpose with critical reviews of progress and output
  • Team members taking initiative to lead and directing tasks in areas they feel competent
  • Teams and mentors / supervisors outlining the limits of power over decision-making and resources

The shared leadership model is gaining traction within the corporate world, and companies choosing to adopt this more horizontal structure are reaping the benefits of a more effective and accountable workforce.

Finding individuals within your organisation who are suited for shared leadership roles may be assisted through the use of a personality questionnaire.  The Business Personality Reflections® is a personality questionnaire that measures business-related traits to assist in selection and personal development decisions.  Developed by Psych Press, this assessment contains 70 personality scales that can be tailored to any organisation’s needs.  Below is more information about the Business Personality Reflections® Active Leadership scale.

Active Leadership

Active leadership is described as a measure of an individual’s preference for taking on a position of leadership, as well as their confidence in their ability to lead others.  The Active Leadership scale in the Business Personality Reflections® questionnaire indicates the degree to which an individual is likely to take charge of a situation.  Active leadership places individuals at a competitive advantage in the evolving corporate climate because it stimulates individuals to take initiative and seize leadership opportunities to further their own development.  Without it, an individual may find themselves consistently being instructed to complete tasks, and following the directions of others.

A sample item for the Active Leadership scale that you may see in this questionnaire could be:

When push comes to shove, I want to be the one calling the shots’.

The results of studies and meta-analyses have shown that confidence in one’s ability to succeed as a leader, also referred to as leadership self-efficacy, is positively related to work performance (Paglis, 2010; Stajikovic & Luthans, 1998).  Paglis (2010) found that leadership self-efficacy is not only related to individual job performance, but is also highly related to the collective performance and confidence of a team.

Individuals who score highly on the Business Personality Reflections® Active Leadership scale are more likely to want to assume responsibility when working within a team, and will prefer to delegate tasks and coordinate others to achieve outcomes.  Employees who have active leadership characteristics are likely to also be decisive, goal-oriented, and confident in prioritisation and delegation. 

You might consider using an Active Leadership scale in your recruiting and development processes if:

  •   You want to encourage shared leadership workplace practices
  •   Tasks require a degree of decision-making or initiative
  •   You don’t have the time or resources to be ‘looking over shoulders’ or ‘hand-holding’
  •   You have roles which require a degree of collaboration and teamwork
  •   Tasks require employees to drive progress and work autonomously

Organisations can greatly benefit from employees with active leadership skills.  Find and develop the right people for your organisational to maintain your competitive advantage.

If you were interested in learning more about the Active Leadership scale, or the Business Personality Reflections® Personality questionnaire, please simply enquire now for a free trial.