Leadership in Teams

Leadership in Teams: A Functional Approach to Understanding Leadership Structures and Processes”, by Frederick P. Morgeson, Elizabeth P. Karam, both of Michigan State University, and D. Scott DeRue of the University of Michigan, was the most frequently read article in the Journal of Management in 2010. Frederick P. Morgeson has provided a personal background on the article:

Much has been written about teams and leadership, but relatively little attention had been given to the intersection of these two topics until relatively recently. As organizations increasingly structure work around semi-autonomous teams, issues of leadership have increasingly come to the fore. We felt it was time to integrate the diversity of theoretical and empirical research on the topic. In reviewing this literature, we discovered that most team leadership research had focused on a single source of leadership. The most common source studied was formal external leadership (i.e., individuals who are formally assigned as a team’s leader but who are not members of the teams themselves), followed by informal internal leaders (i.e., members of the team who are not formally charged with leadership duties).

We found this curious, in part because it seemed that in a team environment there are many possibilities for different individuals to demonstrate leadership. Thus, a key insight articulated in the paper was a typology of leadership sources, suggesting that leadership can arise from within the team as well as outside the team (suggesting a “locus of leadership” dimension), and such leadership can come from formal sources as well as informal sources (suggesting a “formality of leadership” dimension). This suggests that there are a variety of ways in which leadership can arise in a team environment and that multiple leadership sources can be “active” simultaneously. Interestingly, the development of this typology occurred, in part, during my sabbatical with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) several years ago. During this time, I was working with both researchers and practitioners at CCL to develop a better understanding of the range of team needs that leaders can help fulfill. This work pushed me to try and understand exactly how leadership manifests itself in team settings.

We are extremely proud and excited that our work has resulted in the most widely read article in the Journal of Management for 2010. In reflecting on the success of this paper, I believe that the article was widely read in part because the topic has a great deal of relevance for organizations. In addition, we provide an important contribution by integrating research conducted across two widely studied domains (i.e., teams and leadership). Our typology of leadership sources serves as an integrative mechanism for research and theory that has helped reconcile previously disparate views on team leadership. Finally, our identification of a wide variety of leadership functions summarized the range of research that has been conducted and showed how to incorporate existing leadership approaches that heretofore had not been integrated. We hope that our article continues to spark interest among scholars and encourages future research that crosses both domains.

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