Three ways to build shared leadership in teams

Study reveals keys to improve team performance

People in a business meeting gathered around a conference room table.

Release Date: June 1, 2022

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Tesluk.
"Widely distributing leadership, supporting those with less dominant personalities and building member credibility are the most effective ways to increase engagement—and improve team performance."
University at Buffalo School of Management

BUFFALO, N.Y. —  Tapping into the leadership skills of employees who don’t have managerial titles is critical for team success, and new University at Buffalo School of Management research reveals how organizations can do so successfully.

Available online ahead of publication in The Leadership Quarterly, the research offers a nuanced understanding of shared leadership, in which multiple members assume leadership roles to lead each other—either simultaneously or on a rotating basis.

“Shared leadership generally develops as roles transition across team members, especially when their expertise fits the needs of the team,” says James Lemoine, PhD, associate professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management. “But the exact process has yet to be discovered, which has limited our ability to put it into practice.”

To address this concern, the researchers conducted a study of 450 participants in 90 teams. Each team was challenged with a simulated climb to the top of Mount Everest, which included three critical challenges: the allocation of medical supplies, assessment of weather conditions and distribution of oxygen containers.  

Their findings reveal three key ways managers can develop shared leadership:

  1. Distribute even minor leadership responsibilities widely to grow robust networks.
  2. Encourage and support those who have low motivation to lead by underscoring the importance of their skills and expertise.
  3. Help team members identify, acknowledge and leverage one another’s strengths.

“Organizations might typically focus on just a few members as potential leaders who might be strongly extraverted or match stereotypical ideas of leadership,” says Paul Tesluk, PhD, professor and dean of the UB School of Management. “But widely distributing leadership, supporting those with less dominant personalities and building member credibility are the most effective ways to increase engagement—and improve team performance.”

Lemoine and Tesluk collaborated on the study with UB School of Management doctoral graduates Hamed Ghahremani, PhD ’19, assistant professor of management and marketing at the University of New Orleans; and Ning Xu, PhD ’18, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stockholm School of Economics.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit management.buffalo.edu.

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