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Teams and Their Leaders

A Communication Network Perspective

J. David Johnson

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.

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4: Communicating


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A communicative leader is defined as someone who engages employees in dialogue, actively shares and seeks feedback, practices participative decision making, and is perceived as open and involved.

—Johansson, Miller, & Hamrin (2014, p. 147)

Communication is, of course, central to teamwork and to leadership and to resolving the tensions that arise between them. In this chapter we will provide a more general introduction to communication identifying some fundamental concepts and issues. Following Berlo’s (1960) classic Source-Message-Channel-Receiver (SMCR) model we can identify basic elements of the communication process. Messages are the essential building blocks of most communication events for leaders. Sources, most often leaders in this work, exhibit relatively stable combinations of messages. So, over time, we become very familiar with the repeated stories and themes of our close associates. Communication and management research has traditionally privileged the role of senders in communication (Cornelissen, Durand, Fiss, Lammers, & Vaara, 2015). Channels consist of more complex structures of sources that share similar attributes. So, there may be inherent similarities (e.g., preferences for new technologies, willingness to listen, authoritarian style) for management as a class in an organization and they may use written channels as ← 75 | 76 → their predominant mode of communication. Different sources can be the primary users of particular channels: young people may be more frequent and sophisticated users of social media. Receivers in this framework can initially be cast as workers, but as we become more sophisticated in our discussions of teamwork...

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