Leading Virtual Teams: An Investigation of Leadership and Structural Supports


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Leading Virtual Teams: Hierarchical Leadership, Structural Supports, and Shared Team Leadership
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

 

Due to increasingly sophisticated technologies, organizational globalization and flexible work structures, virtual teams are steadily growing in popularity.

By definition, virtual teams are those that work remotely or, even if in a similar vicinity, communicate via largely electronic means. These teams never, or very rarely, have face-to-face meetings.

There are varying degrees of virtuality, which can be increased by distance and culture differences. The researchers behind a new study on Leading Virtual Teams wanted to understand how leadership and structural factors lead to better performance as virtuality increases.

 

LEADERSHIP THEORIES

There are two prominent leadership theories in this context that have been shown to positively affect performance– Transformational Leadership and Leader Member Exchange. The researchers argued that Supervisor Career Mentoring also related to various positive outcomes. These three constructs comprised the hierarchal leadership model the researchers set out to investigate.

The study found that as virtuality increased, the impact of hierarchal leadership on team performance decreased, because practicing these forms of leadership proved harder in virtual formats. It was at this point that the researchers formulated their opinion that supplementing virtual team leadership with various structural supports could help enhance overall performance.

 

SHARED LEADERSHIP

The researchers were interested in examining how shared leadership and structural supports might affect the overall performance of virtual teams when hierarchical leadership proved difficult.

Shared leadership is the idea that various members of the team engage in leadership-type behaviors. Although not necessarily the same as the supervisor’s actions, these team members promote behaviors that facilitate cohesion and team process, which are critical for high performance.

Shared leadership has been shown to enhance the cognitive, affective and behavioral functioning of teams. So when trust and cohesion are difficult due to the virtual nature of the team, such shared leadership behaviors can enhance positive team dynamics.

 

STRUCTURAL

Structural supports are more indirect means of influencing a team. They deal with leadership substitutes through organizational and task structures, and can compensate for (or add value to) different leadership styles/models.

Due to the fact that working in virtual teams can be wrought with uncertainty and constant change, the researchers decided to explore the positive effect that structural support could have when hierarchical leadership falls short within a virtual context.

The structural supports of primary interest included proper rewards, communication and information management, each of which was found to help increase performance as virtuality increased.

 

TAKEAWAYS ON LEADING VIRTUAL TEAMS

The study found that, while leading virtual teams brings with it certain unique challenges, these challenges can be overcome by choosing alternative methods to traditional hierarchical leadership.

In short, management and leaders who want to mitigate their loss of positive influence due to the virtual nature of the team can supplement with various structural supports and encourage shared leadership for best results.

Employee Start Time: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Morning Employees Are Perceived as Better Employees: Employees’ Start Times Influence Supervisor Performance Ratings
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.

 

We have plenty of adages emphasizing the positive implications of starting the day early. Past research seems to suggest that elevated morning activity is seen as an indicator of being responsible, dutiful, and a hard worker.

In a series of three new studies, lead researcher Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues examine whether this pro-morning bias actually exists by examining how employee start time influences supervisor ratings of their job performance.

They also question how the supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity might play into that relationship.

 

EMPLOYEE START TIME AND JOB PERFORMANCE

Past empirical research found that employees’ level of morning activity is usually associated with positive traits such as being conscientious and having a solid work ethic.

Conscientious employees are typically rated as higher performers because they tend to display stronger work motivation when compared to employees who are low in conscientiousness.

Across two different samples, Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues found that employees who report later start times are perceived as less conscientious by their supervisors, and this negative stereotype ultimately results in lower performance ratings for those employees.

 

THE ROLE OF THE SUPERVISOR’S PREFERENCE

The authors found that the negative implications for employees who start the work day late largely depend on their supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity.

That is to say that late-starters are rated as low performers due to being perceived as less conscientious only among supervisors who prefer morning activity themselves.

For those supervisors who are more night owls than day larks, the morning bias doesn’t usually translate into negative repercussions.

 

IMPLICATIONS OF THESE FINDINGS

The current study highlights the potential consequences of using flexible work arrangements, such as starting the work day late.

Given that performance ratings may largely depend on the supervisors’ own chronotype, it is recommended that managers are reminded of potential negative consequences of morning bias, and encouraged to remain objective in their performance evaluations of employees.

Are You Managing and Keeping Your Star Performers?


Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: Star Performers in Twenty-First Century Organizations
Reviewed by: Karan Samtani

 

Every organization wants to retain its best people, because star performers are essential to success. But this maxim has become even more prevalent in today’s business world.

The authors claim that the 20th century was about reforming the business world into factories that valued conformity and having everyone do their tasks in the same way. But the current business climate has people working to solve more problems in more unique ways. The projects that we work on involve quick turn-arounds and efficiency.

In short, the business world has moved away from the conformity of the 20th century and into the creativity of the 21st century. This change has made star performers even more valuable, according to the authors of the study.

 

THE VALUE OF STAR PERFORMERS

According to the researchers, the top 10% of a company’s employees account for close to 30% of overall performance, and the top 20% account for close to 50% of overall performance.

The study found that replacing a star with an even slightly inferior employee can result in dramatically lower output. The value of star performers are not only based on their performance, but how they act and react with other employees.

 

WHY STAR PERFORMERS OFTEN GROW DISGRUNTLED

The problem is that many organizations act as if the average employee is performing the majority of the work, and continue to use the normal distribution method when it comes to how they handle employees.

What can we do that has the greatest effect on the most people? They use this methodology for training, for determining strategic change initiatives, and for compensation.

The result is that they placate average employees and tend to alienate the star performer. Star performers feel as though they are either being talked down to, not given any attention at all, or are not valuable to the company. When that happens, they leave.

 

HOW COMPANIES CAN KEEP THEIR BEST PEOPLE

Management would be better served by focusing on their best people instead of focusing on the majority. The result is a more efficient increase in output, and fewer alienated star performers. A star performer in this job market still has options, and they take them when the work environment is not suitable for them.

So how can organizations keep their star performers?

  • Allow star performers the flexibility to move in and out of teams to take full advantage of their knowledge transfer to rising stars.
  • Use training interventions that improve star performers even marginally, because a slight increase in performance of stars can lead to greater production than a more significant increase of the average employee.
  • Create a compensation system that conforms to the distribution of performance, which will help retain stars.
  • Compensation systems that best retain stars provide considerably higher pay for elites.
  • Investing more time into stars is likely to gain greater overall output and create positive gains.
  • Management practices of limited flexibility and homogeneity of pay are not likely to motivate star performers.

Is More Status Inherently Better? Investigating Performance After Status Loss


Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Falling from great (and not-so-great) heights: How initial status position influences performance after status loss.
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

 

Most of us want the respect and benefits that come with high status positions and professions. But we seldom think of the costs associated with this status.

A recent study investigates how losing that status can have detrimental effects, highlighting the implications that even a slight decline in performance can have.

This novel research aims to better understand how performance is affected, and who was most likely to be affected, by status loss.

 

STATUS LOSS & OUR SENSE OF SELF

Past I/O research has shown that our sense of self is deeply affected by things such as what we do and the groups we belong to. We tend to incorporate the things we do well and membership in groups where we have a higher status into our identity much more often than the things we don’t do well or groups in which we have a low status.

In short, our sense of self-worth is bolstered by a feeling of high status. Serious threats to our self-concept can occur when our positive view of ourselves is challenged, such as through a loss of that status.

The research showed that low-status individuals are less susceptible to having their sense of self-worth damaged by a further loss of status than those individuals who initially had higher status. The impact of status loss on the self- concept of higher status individuals ultimately contributes to a subsequent decrease in job performance.

 

PERFORMANCE ANXIETY

In general, individuals with higher status perform better than those with lower status due to contributing factors such as having more resources at their disposal and having the luxury of choosing what projects they engage in. Previous researchers suggested that, when a person with high status lost their position, they would work harder to regain it.

But the results of this study showed that high-status individuals who lost their status displayed lower performance levels than their peers, experiencing a significant decrease in performance.

This is not necessarily a causal effect, as we cannot rule out the possibility that other underlying factors contributed to this performance decline. However, the study tried to control as many other mitigating factors as possible, meaning that there is a strong likelihood that loss of status plays a significant role.

 

IMPLICATIONS & APPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY

Many people unfortunately experience status loss at work, especially in the economic climate of the last few years.

The findings from this research challenged the notion that people will ultimately work harder after losing their initial status, showing that they actually won’t work as hard as they did before.

This study could have important implications regarding the way organizations structure hierarchies or assign status. It shows that performance at higher levels of an organization can be negatively impacted by status loss, which should encourage companies to plan interventions and make other contingencies when such changes are afoot.

Working Abroad- How to Help Employees Weather the Storm


Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Newcomers Abroad: Expatriate adaption during early phases of International assignments.
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

 

More and more organizations these days are sending employees on international assignments. This can have many benefits for these organizations, and can be exciting for the individual.

But not everyone proves successful in integrating into foreign cultures, which affects their work and can ultimately lead to major losses for organizations.

The research paper under review looked at the relationship between work adjustment and performance. Interestingly, the researchers cite various authors who say that very little research has been done to examine expatriate experiences over time.

 

INITIAL ADJUSTMENT TO WORKING ABROAD

The researchers highlighted motivation and stress-related states as being important in the process of adjustment

Cross-cultural motivation (being able to adapt to other cultures, as well as taking an active interest in their customs) and psychological empowerment (including feelings of competence, freedom and purpose) were identified as being particularly important for high initial adjustment.

Psychological empowerment has a unique impact on motivation, helping expats adjust quicker. Highly motivated individuals seek out social support, are more proactive at work, and consequently show better initial coping skills and overall performance. But despite high initial levels of work adjustment, this group can experience a decline over time. Research suggests that this is because the workers recalibrate their efforts in line with their experiences.

 

THE STRESS TEST

Higher levels of early work adjustment have various outcomes over time, depending on other factors such as experiencing challenge or hindrance stressors.

These stressors reflect work conditions. But– as the name suggests– the challenge stressors are more positive, providing better outcomes (such as promotions or raises), which garner greater engagement and performance. Challenge stressors can actually help maintain high levels of adjustment over time.

Hindrance stressors such as work-related conflict or organizational unfairness, on the other hand, can derail and stifle an employee’s efforts at growth and achievement. Coping with such stressors takes away resources necessary for adjustment and high performance.

 

BENEFITS OF THIS RESEARCH

For organizations sending employees abroad, these findings could be very beneficial.

The results lend support to the idea of screening individuals for high cross-cultural motivation and psychological empowerment levels, which were some of the indicators for high work adjustment abilities. These findings could also help organizations target and improve these aspects within individuals chosen for international assignments so that they are empowered before they even begin working abroad.

This study can aid in the development of programs for those already working abroad to help them reach and maintain satisfactory levels of adjustment, and also help raise managers’ awareness to maintain initial motivation levels and perhaps re-design work tasks where necessary so as to lessen the influence of hindrance stressors.

Will Being an Average Performer Prevent Employee Victimization?


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Is it Better to be Average? High and Low Performance as Predictors of Employee Victimization
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

There has been a surge of interest in research on employee victimization in the last few years, both because the phenomenon is on the rise and because of the negative effects it has on both a personal and organizational level. Employee victimization has many causes and takes many forms, from aggressive incivility and bullying to general mistreatment.

Although previous studies investigated the situational and personal factors that precipitate victimization, little research has been focused on the behaviors that may lead to someone getting targeted.

 

THE VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH & LOW PERFORMERS

The research paper under review looked at the extent to which high and low performers may experience victimization because of their performance. Attention was paid to the factors that influence different performance levels, which in turn leads co-workers to punish the victims in different way. The researchers also examined whether this victimization would affected later performance, and in what way. Their findings showed that those people that were on either end of the performance spectrum outside norms for their group were more likely to be victimized. When employees perform well, they may be perceived as a threat and make others look bad, and so they’re mistreated. But when one under-performs and fails to contribute to overall group performance, they too will likely be victimized.

 

DIFFERENCES IN EMPLOYEE VICTIMIZATION TACTICS

The research also highlighted the different forms that employee victimization may take. With low performers, the treatment they get will be more overt “in-your-face” aggression, such as being yelled or sworn at. This may be because of co-workers feeling resentment against freeloaders, and their frustration at the effect their colleague’s lack of contribution has on overall team performance.

High achievers are more likely to experience covert and subversive forms of victimization, such as being ignored, resources being withheld and co-worker sabotage. This may be because of feelings of envy or inferiority, as well as the fact that high performers may highlight other member’s shortcomings. An important factor that was noted, which affected certain outcomes, was the victim’s feelings of entitlement or benevolence. With low performers this had little effect, but when high performers had a sense of entitlement– such as disregarding others and being self-serving in goal attainment– more overt forms of aggression were more prevalent. Those high performers who were more team-oriented and benevolent in their actions didn’t experience these blatant forms of aggression.

 

THE BIG TAKEAWAYS

These initial results aren’t necessarily a reason to accept average performance in the workplace. But they are particularly useful in being able to better predict victimization, which may help improve risk assessments and targeted prevention strategies.

Despite their limitations, these findings also highlight the need to look at how performance appraisals and incentives are given as well as how high and low performers may be dealt with to reduce victimization.

Employee victimization has the potential to seriously affect teamwork co-operation and productivity, and is therefore a critical issue to address at the organizational level.

How to Create Successful Work Teams


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Members’ Needs, Intragroup Conflict, and Group Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Teamwork plays an essential role in the success of many organizations. But what factors determine whether work teams will succeed or fail?

This question is an important one for I-O psychologists, and research by Chun and Choi (2014) has provided new insights into how managers can form successful work teams by considering the role members’ needs and intragroup conflict play in overall group performance.

 

INDIVIDUAL NEEDS AND TEAM PERFORMANCE

Previous research has examined how different personalities interact to influence team success, but this study primarily considered the needs of employees. Needs are defined as the basic things that a person strives for.

The researchers explored three types of needs– the need for achievement (i.e. when employees have a desire to accomplish goals), the need for affiliation (when employees desire quality personal relationships), and the need for power (when employees desire to control people).

The researchers studied how these three types of needs can ultimately lead to team success or failure.

 

SOURCES OF TEAM CONFLICT

When team members had a high need for achievement, there was more task-related conflict, meaning healthy debate about how to solve work-related problems. These teams ultimately had higher performance. Interestingly, these results were even better when team members had similar amounts of need for achievement.

When team members had a strong need for affiliation, less relationship conflict occurred. When they were also able to communicate effectively, even less relationship conflict occurred. Unlike task conflict, the study deemed relationship conflict (refering to interpersonal squabbles that are not related to solving problems) as bad. In this study, relationship conflict was typically associated with lower team performance.

Finally, when team members had a need for power, more status conflict occurred. The study showed that status conflict is also bad, and happens when people fight for the right to control others. However, this effect was alleviated when group members had varying levels of need for power. In other words, when some people desired power and others didn’t, there was not as much conflict. Also, researchers found that teams that communicated better had less status conflict.

 

THE BIG PICTURE ON CREATING SUCCESSFUL WORK TEAMS

So what do these findings ultimately mean? It means that managers are capable of creating successful teams simply by paying special attention to the types of people they place on a team.

Teams composed of members with a need for achievement are especially well suited to successfully solving problems in a diplomatic way, especially when they have similar levels of this need.

Teams with members who need affiliation and communicate well are better at avoiding the interpersonal issues that sometimes hinder team performance.

And teams that have power hungry members can be expected to compete for control, but this can be mitigated by including some people who do not need as much power, and by helping to improve team communication.

Make It Rain: How bad weather could be good for work productivity


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Rainmakers: Why bad weather means good production
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee

Have you ever woken up to the sound of rain and thunder outside your window, with the decisive thought that it would be a lazy day?

Although inclement weather might not necessarily be the best thing for putting you in a great mood in the morning, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that those thunderstorms just might enable you to get more work done.

 

BAD WEATHER VS. GOOD WEATHER

Recent research has determined that bad weather actually increases work productivity when compared to days with good weather.

The article suggests that this is because good weather can cause distractions, while bad weather forces our attention onto work projects.

Without distractions such daydreaming about playing tennis or going out on the lake to take advantage of the beautiful weather, more work generally gets accomplished.

 

HOW RAIN IMPACTS PRODUCTIVITY

The researchers studied employees at a Japanese bank and online surveys, and then compared their findings with archival data on the weather for the area.

They found that, when people perceive the weather to be bad, they think of fewer non-work activities to do, and they find these activities less attractive than when the weather is good. Most intriguingly, they found that bad weather often results in enhanced speed, accuracy and productivity among workers, with an average of a 1.3% decrease in productivity on bright, sunny days.

At first this might not sound like an incredible impact on workplace efficiency. But, over time and across an organization, endless days of good weather could translate into big bucks lost while employees daydream about a relaxing day at the beach.

 

THE BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAY

Since there is little that we can do to control the weather, how can we apply these findings to our organizations?

As this study suggests that good weather provides distractions and lessens work productivity, we can attempt to offset this effect by providing breaks on good weather days. If possible, structuring work projects to take these effects into account could help take advantage of the increased productivity created by bad weather and avoid the negative influences of good weather.

The researchers even suggested that, ultimately, it might be advantageous to select locations for the organization that have frequent bad weather. Whether that’s practical or not is for you to decide.

Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor: The Joint Roles of Conscientiousness and Coping Strategies
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Abusive supervision is a serious issue, and much more prevalent than you might realize.

A lot of research has been done on this topic– partly because it is on the increase, but also because of its devastating effects on morale and productivity.

In looking at personality and the choice of coping strategies, new research reveals insights that can help employees maintain performance while surviving an abusive supervisor.

 

COPING WITH AN ABUSIVE SUPERVISOR

The transactional stress model details a 2-step process in individuals confronted with a stressful event: First, they decide how this event impacts their general well-being; secondly, they decide if something can be done to minimize negative effects, choosing an appropriate coping strategy to deal with the situation.

So what coping strategy would you employ in dealing with the stress caused by an abusive supervisor? Either you would directly address the issue and take initiative to solve your problem (i.e. active coping strategies), or you may prefer avoiding the issue until the worst passes (i.e. avoidance strategies).

The question is, is one of these strategies better than the other, or is there more complexity involved in effectively handling such a situation?

 

PERSONALITY & PERFORMANCE

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests personality has a more significant effect on performance than the choice of coping strategy when dealing with an abusive supervisor. However, the research does suggest that avoidance strategies will negatively affect employee performance in the long run.

That being said, researchers found that conscientiousness (one of the Big 5 personality traits) influences how well you work under such circumstances, no matter you choose to deal with it. In this case, conscientiousness refers to how people control themselves, preferring planned behavior over more spontaneous expressions.

The work performance of employees who ranked high on conscientiousness and used various coping strategies wasn’t affected nearly as much as those who were low on conscientiousness and using various strategies. This highlights the major role conscientiousness plays in helping people maintain their performance, even when choosing different ways of coping with an abusive supervisor.

 

THE BIG-PICTURE TAKEAWAY

This research can be useful for an organization’s selection criteria, as it seems that certain kinds of people are naturally more adept at maintaining their performance in the face of stressful work environments and demanding superiors.

But, on a more personal level, those employees struggling with an abusive supervisor may want to stop avoiding the issue, as the study shows that their work performance will inevitably suffer.

Thriving At Work Rather Than Just Going Through the Motions


Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (April, 2014)
Article: Thriving at work: Impact of psychological capital and supervisor support
Reviewed by: Lauren Zimmerman

 
Are there times where you feel like you’re just “going through the motions” at work? If so, there’s good news: Instead of continuing with your daily tasks like a preprogrammed robot, you can thrive at work!

 

THRIVING AT WORK: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

A new study from T.A. Paterson, F. Luthans and W. Jeung examines thriving at work, which involves an employee’s experience of both learning and vitality in the workplace.

Specifically, this study looked at how supervisor support and employees’ levels of hope, efficacy, resiliency and optimism (i.e., psychological capital) ultimately influence their success in the workplace.

Additionally, these authors explored the influence thriving at work has on employees’ job performance and self-development.

 

EXAMINING THE RESULTS

The “Thriving At Work” study’s results revealed that employees who were more hopeful, efficacious, resilient, and optimistic at work were more likely to thrive, leading to employees who were more focused on their assigned tasks.

Similarly, employees with very supportive supervisors were also more likely to thrive at work and be more focused.

Furthermore, these employees who thrived at work engaged in more work-related self-development and had higher levels of job performance (as rated by their supervisors).

 

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR HR PROFESSIONALS

Collectively, these results indicate that employers and organizations should seek to promote “thriving at work” and not just “going through the motions” on a daily basis. Not only because employees who thrive at work perform better than their robotic coworkers, but also because the experience of thriving at work promotes employees’ self-development initiatives.

This discovery is especially important for organizations. Today’s workplace continues to evolve rapidly, and companies need employees who can easily adapt and develop along with the ever-changing work environment.

Therefore, organizations should strive to create supportive work environments, which provide employees with enhanced opportunities for thriving at work!

 

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