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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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5: Contexts/Initial Conditions


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A classic question in leadership studies is whether it is the situation/times or traits/characteristics we covered in Chapter 4 that makes for effective leaders. Everyone remembers Napoleon, in part, because he often overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, but it was Kutuzov who best read the strategic and tactical situation in Russia and developed an approach based on contextual factors that decimated the Grand Army.

Context represents things that are most often not in the control of the leader and/or the team that provides the starting points, initial conditions for their work. In conceptualizing our world, we have a tendency to focus on objects rather than their grounds (Stocking & Holstein, 1993), focusing on messages or leaders, rather than the contexts within which they are embedded. Traditionally three senses of context have been used in organizational research and will be reflected in our approach to this chapter (Johnson, 2003). First, context is seen as equivalent to the situation in which an individual or team is immersed. Here we will focus specifically on group size, climate, and technology. Second, contingency approaches move toward identifying active ingredients that have specific, predictable effects on various processes. As an illustration of contingency approaches we will review the work of Fiedler and Woodward. Third, major frameworks for meaning systems or interpretation are increasingly seen as critical to developing ← 117 | 118 → common grounds and mental models for teams which we will cover in much more detail in the deciding chapter. We will discuss...

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