Sinha, R., Chiu, C., & Srinivas, S.B. (2021). Shared leadership and relationship conflict in teams: The moderating role of team power base diversity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 1-19. DOI: 10.1002/job.2515
Background & Theory:
The research surrounding the effectiveness of shared leadership in teams is mixed. For example, some studies note the benefits of improved intrateam harmony and reduced conflict through shared leadership. However, other studies focused on the element of power in teams suggest that shared leadership can lead to increased team conflict.
This study addresses this seeming dichotomy through dominance complimentarity theory, which suggests that greater team harmony is produced when a team member’s dominant behaviors are met with contrasting submissive behaviors by other team members. This being considered, the authors point out that higher levels of differentiation in power bases among team members is vital for maintaining high-quality relationships when shared leadership is present. This differentiation in power bases is called team power base diversity (tPBD), which “represents the difference among team members in the resources they use to influence others” (Sinha et al., 2021).
This study examines the role of tPBD in the relationship between shared leadership and relationship conflict.
Research was conducted by Ruchi Sinha et al. to answer the following questions:
- Does team power base diversity moderate the relationship between shared leadership and team relationship conflict? If so, what does this relationship look like?
- How does this affect team performance?
Participants of this study included 332 full-time MBA students. These students were randomly assigned to four- or five-person teams and were required to work on a 12-week finance and operations team project. The project itself included clear task goals and performance criterion, no specific role assignments or designated leaders, and tasks that required both organized individual performance and team-based decision-making. The project made up a total of 45% of each student’s class grade, which most believed played a big role in their future employment or promotion prospects.
Data were collected in two stages. Five weeks after working as a team on the project, the participants were surveyed, collecting measures of shared leadership, relationship conflict, and a peer-ratings-based measure of tPBD. Shared leadership, relationship conflict , and tPBD were all measured using previously validated measures. This survey was part of a greater organizational survey conducted at the business school. At the end of the 12-week project, objective team performance data were collected, which consisted of the team project grades. Data were then analyzed.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that the association between shared leadership and relationship conflict becomes increasingly negative with higher levels of team power base diversity. Additionally, as tPBD increases, the indirect effect of shared leadership on team performance through relationship conflict also becomes increasingly positive.
In a post hoc exploratory analysis, the researchers also examined the role of task conflict in the above relationships. They found that the interaction between shared leadership and tPBD was significantly associated with both relationship and task conflict. However, when task and relationship conflict were entered as mediators, task conflict was not significantly associated with team performance, whereas relationship conflict was. These results confirm that “the interaction between shared leadership and tPBD is positively associated with team performance through lowering relationship conflict but not through the pathway of task conflict” (Sinha et al., 2021).
What We Can Learn:
Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:
- The researchers suggested from these findings that increasing leadership in teams may not be enough to create effective and productive teams. It is critical to consider how the role of power in combination with informal leadership dynamics can affect relationship conflict and potentially harm/benefit teams.
For Consultants: In some cases, formal leadership structures can be helpful for team dynamics, especially when team member dynamics oppose one another.
For Everyone: If you are experiencing destructive team relationship conflict, consider designating a trained team leader that is responsible for recognizing and managing relationship conflict when it shows up.