Teams and Their Leaders

A Communication Network Perspective

by J. David Johnson (Author)
©2018 Monographs XX, 326 Pages


This book provides the first truly comprehensive treatment of three topics that have traditionally been treated separately: teamwork, leadership, and communication. Teamwork has become central to the operation of the modern organization. People from diverse backgrounds culturally, professionally, and demographically must work together to develop the well-rounded decision making needed for organizations to survive in our modern economy. Leadership, and relatedly management, have more traditionally been the focus of organizational operations.
While it is easy to rule by dicta, it is much more difficult to establish a framework in which true teamwork is possible. Teamwork is a very fragile thing. The minute managers start becoming too directive a slippery slope is started in which one's followers, perhaps better cast as team members, constantly look to them for direction and approval rather than acting on their own best instincts. Communication plays a central role in resolving these tensions. Messaging is central to traditional management functions, while providing a communication network structure that enables action is a more subtle, but longer lasting function of leaders. All three processes, teaming, leading, and communicating, must act in concert for the many benefits of teamwork to be realized.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figure
  • Tables
  • Boxes
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1: Introduction and Overview
  • Teams
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Plan of the Book
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 2: Classifying Teams
  • Opaqueness
  • Composition
  • Internalities
  • Externalities
  • Summary
  • Work/Action Teams
  • High Performance
  • Sports
  • Flash
  • Summary
  • Decision/Problem-Solving Teams
  • Executive
  • Creative
  • Ad Hoc Problem Solving
  • Ad Hoc Integrative
  • Summary
  • Other Types of Teams
  • Interprofessional Care
  • Internalities
  • Communities of Practice
  • Self-Managing Teams
  • Research
  • Multinational
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • Narrative Book Length Descriptions of Various Types of Teams
  • Action Teams
  • Engineering, Design Teams
  • Executive Teams
  • Sports Teams
  • References
  • 3: Classical Approaches to Leadership: Managing
  • Superior-Subordinate Communication Relationships
  • Bases of Power: Leadership, the Influential Increment
  • Traits
  • Great Person Theories
  • Major Leadership Traits
  • Skills
  • Style
  • Classic Approaches
  • Human Relations Versus Task Orientations
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 4: Communicating
  • Messaging for Managing
  • Dosage Metaphor
  • M-Class Messages
  • Compliance Gaining
  • Narrative
  • Symbols
  • Framing
  • Stories
  • Slogans
  • Metaphors
  • Channels
  • Channel Selection
  • Channel Usage
  • Summary
  • Dialogue
  • Openness
  • Listening
  • Listening Components
  • Feedback
  • Inference and Observation
  • Summary
  • Voice
  • Conclusion
  • Further Reading
  • References
  • 5: Contexts/Initial Conditions
  • Situational Approaches
  • Group Size
  • Climate
  • Technology
  • Contingency Approaches
  • Spatial Factors
  • Proximity
  • Access
  • Information Technology and Virtual Teams
  • Social Networking
  • Group Decision Support Systems
  • Summary
  • Relating to the Larger Organization and the World Outside
  • Competition with Other Teams
  • Contextualizing
  • Developing a Culture
  • Developing Group Norms
  • Founding Fathers (Sic)
  • Sustaining a Culture
  • Socialization
  • Rites and Rituals
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 6: Structuring
  • Forming
  • Selecting People
  • Organizational Demography
  • Commitment
  • Free Riders and Public Goods
  • Norming
  • Developing Routines and Formal Structures
  • Formal Structures
  • Networks
  • Indices
  • Pathways
  • Groupings
  • Small Group Communication Networks
  • Role Sets
  • Summary
  • Systems Theory
  • General Systems
  • Structural Functional Analysis
  • Cybernetics
  • Coordination and Interdependence
  • Thompson’s Scheme
  • Multiteam Systems
  • Adjourning
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 6–1. Network Analysis Case
  • Further Reading
  • References
  • 7: Deciding
  • Decision Making
  • Creativity
  • Finding Information
  • How Do People Know Where to Go?
  • Opinion Leaders
  • Accessibility
  • Status Structures
  • Transactive Memory
  • Small World Strategies
  • Information Foraging
  • Search Limitations
  • Summary
  • Conflict
  • Coalition Formation
  • Cohesion
  • Bandwidth, Echo
  • Groupthink
  • Common Ground
  • Frameworks
  • Formal
  • Informal
  • Markets
  • Professional
  • Negotiated Order
  • The Impact of Multiple Frameworks
  • Developing a Mental Model
  • Structural Equivalence vs. Contagion
  • Social Construction of Reality
  • Conclusion
  • Recommended Readings
  • References
  • 8: Transitional Approaches to Leadership: Relating
  • Theory X, Theory Y
  • Followership
  • A Focus on Leader-Member Relationships
  • Idiosyncrasy Credits
  • Leader-Member Exchange
  • Path/Goal
  • Communication and Change
  • Change Leadership
  • Charismatic
  • Transformational
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 9: Producing
  • Productivity/Performance
  • Communication Costs
  • Information Seeking Costs
  • Social Networks
  • Summary
  • Evaluating Teams and Their Leaders
  • Measurement
  • Methods of Detecting Leadership
  • Success
  • Team Rewards
  • Training, Team Building
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 10: Contemporary Approaches to Leadership: Serving
  • Destructive Leadership
  • Humble Leadership
  • Servant Leadership
  • Authentic Leadership
  • Distributed Leadership
  • Complexity Leadership Theory
  • Substitutes for Leadership
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • 11: Summing Up
  • Tensions/Paradoxes/Dilemmas
  • Managing Boundaries
  • Working at a Distance
  • Culture
  • Who Is in Charge?
  • Rationality/Cognition
  • Diversity
  • Collaboration
  • Resolving Tensions
  • The Future
  • Trends in Communication
  • Trends in Leadership
  • Trends in Teamwork
  • Conclusion
  • Further Readings
  • References
  • Index

| ix →

6–1 Centralized Small Group Communication Networks

6–2 Decentralized Small Group Communication Networks

6–3 Centralized Small Group Communication Networks as Hierarchies

6–4 McDonald’s System Chart

6–S1 Illusory, Inc., Organizational Chart

6–S2 Illusory, Inc., Communigram with Communication Role Labels

6–S3 Organizational Chart Overlaid on Communigram

6–S4 Overlay of Network on Organizational Chart

6–S5 Zone Size for Leadership Team Member 4

| xi →

1–1 Teamwork Definitions

1–2 Leadership Definitions

2–1 Action Teams and Supra Characteristics

2–2 Decision/Problem-Solving Teams and Supra Characteristics

2–3 Other Teams and Supra Characteristics

6–1 Approaches to Team Formation and Their Outcomes

6–2 Information Processing Mechanisms

6–S1 Zone Sizes for Team Member 4

| xiii →

3–1 Ethics

3–2 Meta-analysis

5–1 Hierarchical Linear Modeling

6–1 Network Analysis Methods

8–1 Ethics and Transitional Approaches

| xv →

I was a practicing manager for nearly two decades in a number of different capacities: as a department chair, as a Dean, and also as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the supply and services division of a hospital. Over the years in these capacities I have adopted what I have come to term a minimalist approach to management. I have tried to provide a basic sense of direction and structure to those with whom I work, leaving it to them to decide the best operational approach to solving particular problems. I jokingly referred to myself as the stealth Dean, preferring a minimalist level of communication to achieve particular ends and as often as not I have seen other managers embroil themselves in needless difficulty from overdoing management. At times I have been criticized for not exercising a particular form of leadership that involves imposing my will, or indirectly the will of those managers to whom I report, upon my direct reports.

While it is easy to rule by dicta, it is much more difficult to establish a framework in which true teamwork is possible. Teamwork is a very fragile thing. The minute managers start becoming too directive, a slippery slope is started in which one’s followers, perhaps better cast as team members, constantly look to you for direction and approval rather than acting on their own best instincts.

My primary teaching has focused on organizational communication generally and during my career I have taught over a score of courses related to a variety of ← xv | xvi → topics under this umbrella. Over the last four decades, at four different universities, I have taught courses that focused on leadership. In fact, I often developed and originated these courses. At Michigan State University as a graduate student, and later as a faculty member, I taught a largely lecture-oriented course on a quarter system that focused on social psychological approaches to leadership. When I joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) I found a department in which rhetoricians and public address faculty members coexisted with social scientists. Accordingly, when I developed a course there focusing on leadership, that was on a semester system, I added a new unit that focused on leadership in parliamentary settings where diverse groups use dialogue to settle on a course of action. While at Arizona State University I didn’t teach a course specifically on leadership, but I did teach a course on group communication. Later, when I joined the faculty at State University of New York at Buffalo I introduced a course modeled on the one I taught at UWM. Finally, after returning to the faculty after my deanship at the University Kentucky the organizational communication faculty developed a more elaborated curriculum. This gave me a chance to synthesize these prior teaching experiences into the course that became the impetus for this book: teamwork and leadership. Because of the social scientific emphasis of the department and the fact that parliamentary procedure was becoming a lost art, the teamwork material which is my focus here substituted for this unit of my prior courses. If there is one thing I have learned from over four decades of class team projects it is, in spite of the repeated admonitions concerning the importance of learning teamwork skills in the modern organization, US students have a deep-seated cultural aversion to working in teams.

This work focuses on the intersection of teamwork and leadership. As a result, many of the more directive/autocratic, some might say dictatorial, approaches to leadership often favored by managers and others are not covered in great detail since they are often antithetical to true teams. Obviously communication is central to negotiating the different roles that leaders and teams must play in organizational settings. Unfortunately in my teaching experience I was unable to uncover a book that gave equal weight to all three of these elements. My frustration with the lack of one source I could turn to provided the initial motivation for this work.

In this book I wish to acquaint a range of readers with the underlying substantive and pragmatic issues related to teamwork and to leadership. The literature, especially on leadership, is too vast to review everything, instead I review topics pertinent to our larger themes. This book is intended to reach a wide audience. Accordingly, I have written it in such a way that it will be appropriate to diverse ← xvi | xvii → audiences. I use case studies, pragmatic examples, summaries, tables, and figures to make the book more accessible. The interested reader can consult the Further Readings noted at the end of each chapter for more in-depth treatments of particular topics. This book focuses on general issues, providing readers with analytic frameworks that should be useful across specific situations.

| xix →

I would express my appreciation to the reviewers for their insightful comments. I would also like to thank Mary Savigar, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Media and Communication Studies, for believing in this project initially and Kathryn Harrison for carrying it through to completion. I would also like to thank the students in my Communication 581, Teamwork and Leadership course, for providing me with feedback on an earlier version of this work.

| 1 →

Homans suggests the job of the leader is to give orders (verbal messages) that move the group from one state of social equilibrium to another, thus capturing one synthesis of the three topics we will focus on in the remainder of this work. Obviously leadership has been a preoccupation of social scientists and historians for centuries. In simpler times a focus on great men (sic) and their impact on society may have been clearly appropriate, but increasingly the world has become a very complex place, as have the organizations that dominate the contemporary scene. The pace of change and the increasing complexity of our institutions have brought to the fore the necessity for looking beyond the skills and the capabilities of one individual to see how the talents of many can be applied to the problems we confront today. This has led to a focus on teamwork. Unfortunately teamwork and leadership are often at odds with each other, introducing tensions and paradoxes we will explore more fully in Chapter 11. Both leadership and teamwork ← 1 | 2 → require communication, albeit perhaps in different forms. Leaders rely on messaging to mobilize their followers, while the communication network structure of teams is central to their effectiveness.

Leadership, and relatedly management, has more traditionally been the focus of organizational operations; however, teamwork is becoming more and more central to the operation of the contemporary organization. While it is easy to rule by dicta, it is much more difficult to establish a framework in which true teamwork is possible. Teamwork is a very fragile thing. The minute managers start becoming too directive a slippery slope is started in which one’s followers, perhaps better cast as team members, constantly look to them for direction and approval rather than acting on their own best instincts. There is an inherent tension between leadership and teamwork. At its root leadership implies influence, imposing one’s will on others, while teams reach their full potential when their members are encouraged to express themselves.

Communication is, of course, central to teamwork and to leadership and to resolving the tensions that arise between them. However, greater effort put into communication may be symptomatic of deep-seated organizational problems. Differences in emphasis on particular communication processes are associated with broader historical trends in leadership research. The earliest work in this area focused on one-way relations, with managers attempting to influence workers. In accomplishing this function the primary emphasis was on messaging, particularly persuasion, that focused on leadership as a monologue (Fairhurst, 2001). Later theoretical work, such as leader-member exchange theory, focused on the developing relationship between leaders and followers, implicitly suggesting a two-way communication relationship and the possibility of dialogue. Managers need to receive honest feedback and information that can improve task performance. More recent work has focused on followers and their needs particularly concerning their development and growth. This emphasis highlights the importance of listening and developing a true receiver orientation. In some ways this progression also reflects staging arguments with increased sophistication in communicating as we proceed through this evolutionary history of management thought. So, all managers must have some fundamental skill sets in messaging, but the other skills become more salient at later stages.

This work will focus on the intersection of these three processes pointing to essential elements of overlap and the tensions that result when they do not converge. So an autocratic manager who cannot delegate and who constantly monitors and intervenes in every phase of group work can subvert the compelling reasons for forming teams in the first place. Similarly, overdoses of communication, ← 2 | 3 → providing too much direction, can limit the autonomy of teams and the initiative of their members, subverting the most beneficial impacts of teamwork. On the other hand, teams that engage in bad followership, that work at cross purposes with larger organizational goals, often compel managers to intervene.

The impact of internal organizational groupings has always been of central interest to organizational behavior, dating back at least to the Hawthorne studies which clearly demonstrated that informal groups had profound effects on organizational performance (Kilduff & Tsai, 2003; Scott, 2000). More recently research, as we will see in the deciding chapter, has focused on how teams share information to facilitate decision making. Emergent, as opposed to appointed leaders, are most likely to embody the norms of their groups and only can depart from them at some risk of losing their standing (E. Katz & Lazersfeld, 1955). Collaboration on projects involves reconciling different points of view. Communication in contemporary team work perspectives is essential to integrating, synthesizing diverse skill sets to solve a problem. “Effective communication requires a shared language, common goals, and agreement upon basic roles and behaviors expected from each participant” (Falconer, 1980, p. 35). Teams and their leaders must find a common ground that is basic to understanding communication between them.

All three functions—teaming, leading, and communicating—must be in concert for the effective functioning of the contemporary organization. Interestingly, the skills associated with each of these processes were listed as the top three desired attributes of undergraduates by employers (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2016) and are central to the current emphasis on the “soft skills” of new hires (Davidson, 2016; Isaacs, 2016). We will now turn to defining our terms and then we will preview the remainder of this work.


People from diverse backgrounds culturally, professionally, and demographically must work together to develop the well-rounded decision making needed for organizations to survive in our global economy (Salas & Cooke, 2008; Salas, Sims, & Burke, 2005). Teams are often the place where operationally our cultural concern for diversity and inclusion must be resolved. Managers spend almost 40 percent of their time working in teams and the vast majority of organizations with over 100 members rely on teams for accomplishing their everyday work (Solansky, 2008).

While the ability to work in teams is one of the most commonly mentioned skills that potential employers cite when they are looking for prospective ← 3 | 4 → employees, most students dislike teamwork-based assignments (Opt & Sims, 2015). In the United States there is a focus on individual effort that mitigates against people working successfully in teams. Fundamental to many conceptions of teamwork is the individual subordinating their own interests to the interests of the whole.

A compelling feature of research on teamwork is that it stands at the intersection of so many important theoretical and policy issues such as the converging trends surrounding globalization and the “flattening” of our world; the increasing complexity and blurring of boundaries represented by new organizational forms; and the intersection of technology and of human performance. All of these factors come into play in large multinational organizations. Fundamentally teams allow organizations to accomplish tasks that are too big for any one individual. Teams are the building blocks that make organizational size manageable. Ideally teams increase consensus concerning a course of action; increase buy-in, involvement, and commitment; and improve quality (e.g., increasing patient safety) by having more than one set of eyes to look at a problem invoking the wisdom of crowds resulting in better problem solving; classically, groups in general influence member satisfaction, performance, perception, development of norms, and attitudes. On the other hand there are many dysfunctional aspects of teams: concertive control of team members on outliers; social loafing; groupthink; diffused responsibility; and waiting for someone else to take charge.

Teams are essentially groups on steroids. “Teams have a well-defined focus and a sense of purpose and unity that members of other groups do not share” (Poole & Real, 2003, p. 370). Team members share leadership roles, are accountable, encourage open-ended discussion, encourage listening, and measure their performance (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013). Teams are most appropriate when the organizational problem to be addressed is complex requiring a high degree of interdependence among team members (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004). Teams can leverage shared mental models and affective states (e.g., cohesion) to deal more effectively with complex, stressful, and sometimes chaotic modern environments (Salas et al., 2008).

Higgs reviewed 52 authors’ definition of teams and identified seven common elements: common purpose; interdependence; clarity of roles and contribution; satisfaction from mutual working; mutual and individual accountability; realization of synergies; and empowerment (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004). Salas and his colleagues have suggested there is a “big five” in teamwork: team leadership, mutual performance monitoring, backup behavior, adaptability, and team orientation (Salas et al., 2005). Backup behavior refers to the willingness of other ← 4 | 5 → team members to provide assistance when needed. Many of these elements are also included in the sample definitions provided in Table 1–1. The definitions in Table 1–1 usually have one or another of the following components: two or more people, entities; common, valued goal, shared fate, outcomes; perceive of themselves as a team; commitment, motivated to expend effort on the part of the group; shared decision making; some understanding of other’s roles, contributions to team; and team members interact adaptively and dynamically.

There are many different instantiations of teams in contemporary organizations with many different schemes for classifying them (Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, & Gilson, 2008). There are action teams that accomplish tasks beyond what one individual can accomplish (e.g., barn raising, combat squad) or that respond to crises such as fire-fighters controlling wild fires. Executive teams control the operations of large-scale enterprises. Problem-solving teams often focus on ad hoc problems confronting industries. Creative teams develop advertising campaigns and cultural products such as movies. Interprofessional teams are increasingly dominating complex entities such as our health care systems. Big science is increasingly a team-based enterprise. While each of these examples of teams in operation may have a different emphasis on one or another aspect of teamwork, they share an emphasis on collaborative efforts needed to accomplish a larger goal. We will explore these different manifestations of teams in much more detail in the next chapter using the criteria of opaqueness, composition, internalities, and externalities to classify various teams.

Teams are also the latest fad, with their symbolic adoption decoupled from their actual performance. Realizing the potential of teams is often very problematic (Salas et al., 2005), with one of the biggest obstacles their paradoxical, often tension-filled, relationship with leadership.


XX, 326
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 326 pp., 9 b/w ill., 8 tables

Biographical notes

J. David Johnson (Author)

J. David Johnson (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky. He has been recognized as among the most prolific authors of refereed journal articles in the communication discipline. He has written eight books.


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