Is Shared Leadership the answer to team Effectiveness?

Posted by Dr.Sunita Mehta, Assistant.Professor,HBS,GITAM University

The organizations of today are dealing with a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world making it difficult for them to rely on the competence and wisdom of individual leaders. The expertise of one person is not enough to deal with the complexity of the situations. The traditional models of leadership which put a single leader on a pedestal and look up to him for guidance, directions, decisions and support etc are no longer relevant. At the organizational level also, the current times require organizations to be more agile, resilient, flexible and having lesser response time. This has made organizations to undergo significant changes in their structure, culture, systems and processes to adapt to the changing environment. The organizations have become flatter and the hierarchical structure has been broken down to make way for higher employee autonomy, decentralized decision making, self-managed teams resulting in increased employee involvement and engagement.

The concept of flatter organizations has led to the emergence of team structures having members who are experts in different domains and have authority and autonomy to take decisions in their areas of expertise. This has created the opportunity for collective or shared leadership, wherein the members have complete autonomy and also accountability of their areas of responsibility. There are various benefits of shared leadership namely, increased commitment, sense of purpose, and effectiveness from the team members. In addition it also provides an environment of creativity and innovation through increased interaction, collaboration, knowledge transfer between team members from diverse backgrounds and having diverse competencies. However, the pitfalls of shared leadership are also evident and can be emphasized through the adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Ineffective shared leadership can result in delayed decision making as it requires consensus from all the team members. It relies too much on collaboration and trust between the members which can be an issue in some of the teams. Also, all the team members within a team may not be capable and competent enough to take decisions.

The research on the concept of shared leadership is still at infancy stage. However, in the corporate, especially in start-up companies we can find a lot examples like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Excel Entertainment using the concept of shared leadership. Most of the start-up companies are started by two or more people. An advice given by Sachin Bansal co-founder of Flipkart is for entrepreneurs not to start alone. He strongly recommends to find a co-founder with whom they have good chemistry and with whom they share similar goals and vision for the venture. Having a cofounder helps get through the ups and downs of starting up.

Organizations want people who can behave as a leader even without being designated for it, who are self-managed, self-driven, have good communications, are inspired and can inspire others to bring out individual/team performance beyond ordinary. For young managers, it is important for them to acquire expertise in their domains so as to influence others by providing expert advice. They should also have behavioral competencies to work in teams and be good leaders even without designations. However, before being a good leader they certainly need to become good followers.

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