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How Leadership Style Affects Remote Teams' Performance

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Which kind of leadership is more effective?

The debate has raged for years, with leadership experts suggesting different leadership models and writing books providing examples of why their leadership approach works. 

Now, with many teams going through rapid change (working from home, restructuring, taking on a new purpose etc) what leadership is best for supporting and improving team performance in the current climate.  

According to research by Natalia Lorinkova and her colleagues, it’s not a question of which kind of leadership is better, but when to use a certain style.

They investigated two distinct types of leadership style: one where a clear direction is given to the team, or where the members are allowed to make the decisions themselves?

The researchers formed 60 teams consisting of five members who were asked to complete a computer strategy task over 10 team sessions.

Half of the teams were led by directive leaders who gave clear directions and feedback with no room for confusion over the tasks that needed to be completed.

The other 30 teams had empowering leaders, who encouraged their members to take ownership of the tasks and work amongst themselves.

All the leaders were participants themselves who had scored the highest in directive and empowering leadership measures accomplished beforehand.

They also received leadership training and other resources before the study started, to help them maintain their leadership approach with their teams.

Results of the study showed that teams with directive leaders were higher in performance during the first to the fifth sessions. In sessions 6-10, however, it was the empowered teams that improved more.

This suggests that empowerment of team members takes time, but when it eventually takes effect, it has a big impact on performance with members learning how to work with each other better.

The analysis confirmed several reasons behind this: the empowered groups learned to co-ordinate better, felt psychologically more safe and in control, and after the study ended, were more accurate at characterising their colleagues' capabilities and focus in a separate task. 

EBW Global View

While the tasks set out by the researchers don’t necessarily transfer to a typical workplace activity, the results highlight the importance of leaders understanding the drivers of a team performance and the dynamic processes within a team - where members stand in relation to one another and the team as a whole.

Leaders who are able to use theirs, and build others' Emotional Intelligence to understand why people behave the way they do, will be able to maximise their teams engagement and performance.

This is especially true with global teams or remote teams where issues are very quickly amplified due to the lack of personal contact, which highlights different personalities, working cultures and motivations.  

Understanding & managing the dynamic of a team is a delicate art. There are 3 simple steps that leaders can do to make it easier:

1) Define Roles and Responsibilities

Successful team have clearly defined roles and responsbilities that relate to the teams vision/goals. Clear frameworks help build trust, strong team commitment,  provide a powerful team identity and good communications between team members  Teams that lack clear roles and responsbilities, can quickly develop poor dynamics, as people struggle to understand their role in the group. 

2) Break Down Barriers

Use team-building exercises to understand what motivates individuals in the team and develop a team's Business Emotional Intelligence (see here for more info). Use exercises that ease new colleagues into the team gently, and also help the team understand the underlying nature of emotions that impact on a team's behaviour and performance.

3) Learn to recognise and address the tension of a team

Provide feedback that shows your team members the impact of what they are saying and encourage them to reflect on how they can change their behaviour.

Focus on listening for:

Emotionally loaded statements (i.e., "I dislike working with that group.")

Generalizations (i.e., "People won't buy into that idea.")

A lack of interest (i.e., "Is this really a top priority?")

Inherent conflict (i.e., "We don't problem-solve well.")

The main takeaway form this research is that during times of change leaders and managers need to be ready to adapt their leadership style to the environment and the people in the team and this will provide them the edge in the workplace to be able to support and develop their teams quickly and effectively.


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About EBW Global 

EBW Global is a specialist occupational psychology consultancy, whose Business Emotional Intelligence assessments and tools have been used for over 20 years worldwide, in different languages and business sectors. They enable you to help leaders and teams understand why they behave the way they do and use a highly effective 10 step framework to improve their occupational performance.

With a practitioner's network based on 6 continents, all of whom are certified to use the EBW Global assessments and tools, we guarantee the EBW Global Emotional Intelligence approach empowers leaders and teams to transform themselves and their organisations.

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