Timing It Right: Temporal Contingencies and Cascading Effects of Leadership in Action Teams

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Farh, Crystal I. C.
Chen, Gilad
Despite widespread recognition of the influential role of time in teams, these temporal components have been insufficiently integrated in existing models of team leadership. Current approaches to team leadership emphasize the importance of using different behaviors under different circumstances (e.g., contingency theories of leadership), but assume these contingencies to be static, when in reality, they fluctuate over the course of achieving a single collective task. The purpose of this dissertation is to develop and empirically test a temporal contingency theory of leadership in action teams, in part because action teams must manage shifting task goals, task intensity, and team development needs over the course of performing a single collective task. Drawing on temporal theories relevant to action teams, such as Marks, Mathieu, and Zaccaro's (2001) transition-action phase framework, McGrath's (1991) task cycle theory, and theories of team development (e.g., Kozlowski, Gully, Nason, & Smith, 1999), I examine ways in which the internal environment of the team shifts dramatically between preparatory and executionary periods. I then compare and contrast three forms of leader behavior shown to be relevant and effective in action teams - directing, coaching, and relating - and argue that each leads to effective functioning differently in each phase. Specifically, I propose that coaching behaviors increase team functioning early on during a phase of task preparation and that this relationship is enhanced when coaching is used in combination with relating behaviors, whereas directive behaviors increase team functioning later on during a phase of task execution. I further propose that leader behaviors occurring early on initiate preparatory, teamwork processes that endure over time and exert cascading influences on subsequent executionary, teamwork processes. Using live, time-sensitive observation methodology, I test these propositions in a sample of 58 surgical team episodes. Key findings are largely consistent with the proposed relationships in my model and lend support to existing theories that integrate the role of time with team leadership theory, challenge comparatively static team leadership and contingency leadership theories to incorporate a more fine-grained approach to understanding temporal dynamics affecting teams, and yield practical implications around time-sensitive leader training.