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the importance of leadership to effective teams

Leadership is Critical to Team Performance, Study Shows

New research from Spain reveals the keys to efficient work teams

Rachel Muenz

A recent study by Open University of Catalonia (UOC) researchers shows just how important strong leadership is to productive teams.

"The results show that leadership that tends to be a source of inspiration and motivation for achieving results is essential for driving the team's perceived performance,” said Mihaela Enache-Zegheru, a professor at the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business and one of the study authors, in a press release.

In an analysis of 3,190 employees from 654 work teams at companies in Spain, Enache-Zegheru and fellow coauthors Pilar Ficapal-Cusi and Joan Torrent-Sellens looked at organizational, group, and individual factors that “generate team performance,” the group stated in the study abstract. Their data came from questionnaires sent to companies and completed between April 2016 and December 2017.

The resulting study, currently available online, is to be published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

The research team outlined four main factors that positively impacted team effectiveness from organizational and group perspectives:

  1. How leadership support is perceived
  2. Having a shared vision and belief in the team’s “own creative effectiveness”
  3. Emotional safety—the ability to participate and speak openly about how the team is adapting to changes and challenges
  4. SMART shared goals

Goal setting was a key factor in high team performance, with the researchers stating that those goals need to be challenging, but attainable, and “encourage a shared vision,” Enache-Zegheru said.

At the company level, the researchers found several factors that led to heightened creativity and higher team performance, including:

  • Involving team members in key decisions
  • Encouraging open communication
  • Fostering collaborative work environments

While their data was gathered before the current COVID-19 pandemic, the authors did gain insight from their study and earlier research on how remote work—specifically telecommuting—affects teams both positively and negatively.

The positives of remote work:

  • Leads to productivity improvements and cost reductions in the short term
  • Time flexibility
  • Less time spent commuting
  • Greater work efficiency

The negatives of remote work:

  • Can lead to oversaturation with information
  • Can lead to work-life conflicts, fatigue, and stress
  • Challenging for work based on innovation or creativity

Handling the challenges of remote work

Faced with the challenges of remote work, in addition to the stress of the current pandemic, the authors emphasized how important it is for managers and companies to support their employees, ensure they aren’t being overworked, or given unrealistic expectations. Developing healthy ways to deal with the added anxiety and stress as a team is essential.

"Within the current work context, under severe pressure from the health crisis, it is important that the team develops mechanisms for coping with potentially stressful environments, accepting challenges, and collectively developing creative and innovative ideas," Ficapal-Cusi said.