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Invigorating Team Processes through Transformational Leadership: A Theoretical Proposition.


In today's complex and competitive environment, effective teams form a competitive edge over other organizations. Weldon &Weingart (1993) also acknowledge that teams lead to greater efficiency. Cohen & Bailey (1997) applauded team-based institutions having flat structures that can move swiftly in fast-changing scenarios.

Leadership is long being considered as the most vital process in managing organizations. Leadership and team processes and performance are closely intertwined. Tannenbaum et al., (1996) argues that team leadership is a vital feature of effective teams. Leader-subordinate interactions are very significant for team results (e.g. Zaccaro et al., 2001).

A study conducted recently by Pay Scale found that 36% of recent graduates lacked team and interpersonal proficiency (Dishman, 2016). Similarly, research also indicates that organizations are ineffectual in managing and arranging teams as only 21% of employees perceive that their organization is capable of designing cross-functional teams (Kaplan et al., 2016). So there is an immediate need to understand the critical variables that would embolden effective teamwork, more so, team processes (Marks et al., 2001), interpersonal processes (Shuffler, DiazGranados, & Salas, 2011), and leadership abilities (Hogan &Warrenfeltz (2003) This work attempts to explore a conceptual formulation that team processes- with their unique features -are naturally intertwined with transformational leadership behaviors. Transformational leaders possess attributes that would align well with the complexities and rigidities of a team and invigorate them. The authors contend that the alignment of transformational leadership with team processes being strengthened would eventually lead to team effectiveness. This paper adds to the extant literature by systematically unfolding the influence of transformational behaviors on key team processes.

Team and Team Processes

One of the most comprehensive definitions of teams comes from the work of Kozlowski and Ilgen's (2006). According to them, teams are made up of two or more individuals, who endure discharging tasks that are relevant to the organization, they share some common objectives, show functional interdependencies, connect socially (face-to-face, virtually), oversee and regulate the boundaries within which they operate, and are ingrained in organizational settings that determine boundaries, restraints the team and impact transactions with other entities in the overall organizational setup. Mathieu et al., (2017) contend that "the integration of individuals' efforts toward the accomplishment of a shared goal is the essence of teamwork"

According to Burke, Wilson & Salas (2003) & Morgan et al., (1986), to be effective teams have to accomplish both "task work and teamwork". Task work relates to team goals, members of the team should perform the definitive task to attain team goals. Specifically, tasks embody work-centric activities that employees or teams enlist in as part of indispensable action related to their organizational performance (Wildman et al, 2012b). Contrary to team task, teamwork emphasizes more on the shared behaviors (i.e., the doing part), attitudes (i.e., the feeling of team members), and cognition (i.e., thinking of team members) that are fundamental to in achieving the task by team members (Morgan, Salas, & Glickman, 1994).

According to Deloitte's recent survey covering 7,000 participants in 130 countries, work-force around the globe view teamwork as the most popular trend. (Kaplan, Dollar, Melian, Van Durme, & Wong, 2016). Cross, Rebele, and Grant (2016) assert that "collaboration is taking over the workplace". The upsurge of teamwork is seen across areas like "health care, science, engineering, and technology" (e.g.Wuchty, Jones, &Uzzi, 2007). Studies also suggest that teamwork plays a critical role in organizational innovation (Jiang, Wang & Zhao, 2012). In fact future, Mars mission, as per Salas, Tannenbaum, Kozlowski, Miller, Mathieu, &Vessey (2015) is also looking at research in teamwork for successful space exploration.

Team-work has led to higher productivity and the ability to resolve issues at the work-place (Cohen and Bailey, 1997). Implementation of the strategy is as vital as its making, and teams as a unit have responded well in executing strategic decisions to counter difficulties and high-velocity environments. (EWON, 1998). Diversity of intellect, behavior, expertise, and experience provided by a team, aids in offering expeditious, extensible, and ingenious responses to issues, challenges, and complications faced both in and outside the organization. This is the 'wisdom of crowds': enhanced ability to achieve higher performance due to productive synergy of team members (Salas, Rosen, Burke & Goodwin, 2009) response to a range of business challenges and pressures (EWON, 1998).

Team processes are defined by Marks et al, (2001) as "interdependent activities that facilitate task work accomplishment in the pursuit of goals". Gladstein (1984) looks at team processes as "the intra-group and intergroup actions that transform resources into a product". Tannenbaum et al. (1992) assert that critical team processes are conflict resolution, decision-making; problem-solving, and coordination.

Academic research has come up with team processes that aid in determining team effectiveness (Gladstein, 1984; Hackman, 1992; Salas et al, 1992). Giving credence to their research, Zaccaro, S. (2001) asserted that among others, effective teams involve coordination and cognition as important team processes. Similarly, Sharon & Sylvia (2000) talk of coordination, communication, cohesion, decision making, conflict management, and performance feedback as key features of effective teams. Salas et al., (2015) worked on six processes that are critical to teamwork; these are Cooperation, conflict, coordination, cognition, coaching, and communication.

As per the extant literature and keeping in mind the significance of various variables, the authors of the present work incorporated communication, cohesion, coordination, conflict management, and performance feedback as key team processes whose presence would lead to the effectiveness of teams.

Understanding Transformational Leadership

It was the work of James McGregor Burns' (1978) on political leadership that propelled the idea of transformational leadership at the forefront. Burns made a distinction between transactional leaders, who traded material rewards for follower's effort and commitment, and transformational leaders focused on engagement with their subordinates, kindled follower's inner higher needs, and aroused their level of consciousness with respect to the importance of specific issues and innovative ideas that can be charted out to achieve these outcomes. (Barnett, McCormick & Conners, 2001; Cox, 2001; Gellis, 2001; Griffin, 2003; Judge & Piccolo, 2004)

Transformational leadership (TL) are seen as leaders that can ' 'help the organization develop a vision of what it can be, to mobilize the organization to accept and work toward achieving the new vision, and to institutionalize the changes that must last over time" (Tichy and Ulrich, 1984). According to Barbuto (2005), transformational leaders instill trust, adoration, allegiance, and respect amongst followers. The engagement of transformational leaders with their followers is with the 'whole' person and not just with an 'employee'. Antonakis (2012) & Northouse (2013) assert that the transformational leadership role as the most prominent approach in studying leadership research. Transformational leadership is an essential part of the success of an organization (Jandaghiet al., 2008) Leaders exhibiting transformational leadership are instrumental in enhancing satisfaction, achievement, and building enduring organizations. (Bennett, 2009; Berson& Linton, 2005; Egri& Herman 2000). According to Fletcher et al., (2019) transformational leadership enhances the intellectual capability of employees. In fact employees who get motivation from a transformational leader are more likely to devote themselves to work and produce higher level of performance. (Lai et al., 2020)

Four Dimensions of Transformational Leadership

Idealized Influence: Transformational leaders develop morale and trust and come out as towering figures who the followers wish to mirror (Bono & Judge, 2004; Simic, 1998; Patterson, K. A, Russell, R. E, and Stone, A.G. (2004).They are "admired, respected, and trusted" (Bass, Avolio, Jung & Berson, 2003). According to Bass (1995) transformational leaders "emphasize the importance of purpose, commitment, and the ethical consequences of decisions".

Inspirational Motivation: According to Simic (1998) transformational leaders inspire their followers by in-depth observations and exhibiting enthusiasm and idealism. Hughes (2014) asserts that TL builds an electrifying and moving image of the course of action and its outcome. Bass (1997) believes that TL "provides encouragement and meaning for what needs to be done."

Yukl (1989) affirms that Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech should be seen in the context of the trait illustrated above. The authors of this work contend that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose articulation of azadi (freedom) form the British Raj, laying down the path and its glorious end is conformable to the above affirmation.

Intellectual Stimulation This is seen as the ability of the leader in inciting and developing followers' perception of problems and their dexterity in resolving them (Bono & Judge, 2004; Kelly, 2003). Transformational leaders question the status quo and inspire their subordinates to be more ingenious and viewing 'wicked problems' from new perspectives. (Barbuto, 2005). They even trigger out of the box and debatable ideas but simultaneously protect their followers from ridicule or backlash (Stone, Russell & Patterson, 2003).

Individualized Consideration: TL is not partial. They are sensitive to the distinct and unique requirements and demands of followers and make sure that all are absorbed judiciously in attaining the organizational goals (Simic, 1998). But TL has the wisdom to comprehend that individuals are different and have different talents and knowledge (Shin & Zhou, 2003). They personalize interactions, develop a two-way communication, and delegate work that establishes shared leadership and recognizing qualities in each follower irrespective of cultural differences (Bass & Bass, 2008).

Team Effectiveness: The Goal of all Teams

One of the earliest understandings of the effectiveness of teams comes from McGrath's (1964) input-process-output model. It comprehends team effectiveness as an outcome, which is influenced by various inputs like personality traits of the members, or certain organizational level factors like reward composition, environment stress (McGrath's, 1964). Significantly these inputs are worked upon and pass through 'processes' to deliver the outcome. Processes are group behaviors and among others comprise communication (McGrath's, 1964), peripheral supervision (Gladstein, 1984), team learning behaviors (Edmondson, 1999).

Explaining team effectiveness, Hackman's (1987) classic definition broke away from the past and presented a comprehensive understanding comprising three elements: First, client satisfaction, that is the extent to which the teams' outcome conforms to the requirements desired by those who will use the output; second, team viability, meaning does the process of working together augments the members' ability to work synergistically in times to come; and third is members growth and fulfillment, which explains whether members working together enrich their advancement and well-being. Gladstein (1984) on the other hand asserted that team effectiveness is critically influenced by the following three elements: performance of the group, satisfaction of group members, and tenacity of the group to remain together over a longer period.

Cohen and Bailey (1997) categorized effectiveness into three categories: performance, attitudes, and behaviors. Performance effectiveness includes factors like customer satisfaction, creativity etc., attitudes assesses "employee satisfaction, commitment, and trust in management" and third behavioral measures embrace "absenteeism, turnover, and safety".

Wuchty, Jones & Uzzi (2007) assert that the creation of knowledge and organizations doing well is largely based on the effectiveness of teams. The poor performance of teams can lead to exhaustion of scarce resources, non-achievement of the group and organizational objectives, and possibly hampering the organizations' future. In our understanding of teams and related phenomenon, it is therefore imperative that ultimately teams should perform. Teams exist to be effective.

The Conceptual Model

Goodwin et al., (2009) assert that research directed at comprehending the ways and means to assess the effectiveness of teams have grown. Also, the usage of teams in an organization has increased exponentially, and teams are regarded as a fundamental architectural block for organizational effectiveness and advancement in this century (Shriberg, 2009). The effectiveness of the team is critically habituated on the existence of effective leaders (Schriesheim, Wu & Scandura, 2009). Starks and Brooks (2009) believe that team's direction and steadfastness towards its objective are largely determined by an effective leader.

According to Rico (2011) external leadership is grounded in the conventional criterion of understanding team leadership, which asserts the effect of an outside person on the team and is accountable for its work. This leader draws the contours of teams' work, harmonizes its actions, and creates linkages with other teams and divisions in the organization. Studies have tried to explore how leaders' behavior enhance or hamper team performance (Druskat & Kayes, 2000). Hackman and Wageman (2005) also encourage the studies on leadership ought to explain the mechanism that advances team effectiveness.

In this context, leadership style is viewed as an input that influences critical team processes. Hence the question: "what kind of leadership behavior is appropriate for team-based environments? (Herre, 2010). Concerning the leadership behavior and keeping in mind the features of team processes that the authors have focused in this study, transformational leadership behaviors mesh appropriately with team processes.

Transformational Leadership & Team Processes: Weaving a thread together

Figure 1 above shows a diagrammatic representation of how transformational leadership attributes would mesh with important dynamic characteristics of a team that enhances team effectiveness. Key team processes discussed are coordination, communication, performance feedback, cohesion, and conflict management.


It is seen as orderly relational activities that are necessary to complete complex work (Pearce & Ravlin 1987). For teams to function effectively the advantage of diversity in the teams should be harnessed. At the same time variations should be curtailed. Loxley (1997) observes that a communal understanding of the objective and culture of the team aids coordination. Cannon Bowers et al. (1993) also acknowledged that shared mental models' help in coordination. In the above context, as transformational leaders intelligently assess and recognize the different needs and desires of individuals within a group (Chou,2013), they would enhance coordination within the team. Bass & Bass (2008) assert that transformational leaders build up shared leadership and through their behavior as reported by Bass (1985) & House (1977), they align individual member's own goals with the team or organizational goals. This is fundamental in pushing team members towards higher coordination. Liu & Li (2018) states that transformational leadership helps followers to make sense of the team goals and lead to commitment and better coordination.

Communication is the exchange of information and involves interactions among team members. As per Husting (1996) productive teams depend upon trustworthy communication processes, which have clearly defined responsibilities and appropriate delegation. Dyer (1987) recommended that enhanced listening skills, being open to new ideas are communication-related indicators of the effectiveness of teams. Having unclouded agendas for meeting and discussion is an important tool of communication, which also support contribution from every member (Loxley 1997). Uncluttered two ways interaction beyond team boundaries adds meaning to the team's functioning (Firth-Cozens 1998).

Transformational leadership strives to enhance communication and teamwork to manage organizations issues. (Jiang and Chen, 2018). According to Bass & Bass (2008), transformational leaders personalize communication and are eager to initiate two-way communication with individuals, and this trait would in all likelihood transfer to teams who are supervised by a transformational leader. Individualized consideration attribute of transformational leadership involves attentive listening (Bass, 1985), in-fact, Shelley et al.,(2004) suggest that this trait of transformational leaders could be an antecedent of effective team communication. This is reinforced by Kark et al., (2003) &Yammarino et al., (1998) who contend that individual consideration builds up "effective team empowerment and communication" by listening to team members, making time for them, and coaching them. Ahuja & Galvin (2003) also acknowledge the role of transformational leaders in furthering "information exchanges and collaboration among team members".

Performance Feedback

Giving employee's feedback regarding their performance is considered as a compelling intercession for any kind of learning mechanism and achievement (Shute, 2008). Individuals enhance their strategies and improve understanding of their work task with good feedback, it also helps them in handling and monitoring their work (Hattie &Timperley, 2007) London (2003) and Fishbach et al., (2010) assert that positive feedback coming from the leader strengthens team effectiveness. A transformational leader acts as a mentor and guide and very intelligently assess and recognize the different needs and desires of individuals within a group. Chau et al, (2013); Bass (1997) articulates that transformation leader challenges followers with high standards and provide encouragement and meaning for what needs to be done. Providing clarity of goals and understanding every member's uniqueness is an important starting point of a good feedback mechanism.


Cohesion according to Shaw (1976) signifies the extent to which the members of a team are inclined to continue on the team. Teams high on cohesion faceless nonappearance and raised commitment in team activities (Morgan and Lassiter, 1992). Swezey and Salas (1992) include cohesion as one of the prominent team process principles that can be a discriminating factor between effective and inept teams. Previous meta-analyses fond team cohesion influencing team performance (Evans and Dion, 1991; Mullen and Copper, 1994).

Visioning behaviors promote team cohesion (Mullen and Copper, 1994). Charisma is one important trait of a transformational leader and charismatic leadership theory according to Shamir et al. (1993) embodies vision as a tool that reinforces the team's shared identity. Sullivan (1988) point out that visioning embodies the language of collectiveness that is aimed at boosting empathy and bonding with the team. A transformational leader articulates collective purpose which would bring members together and make them a part of the group and impact task cohesion in a positive manner (Hoption, Phelan, &Barling, 2014).

If innovative augmentations and quality problem solving is a virtue then contrary viewpoints demand sensible management (Payne 1982). Also, effective management of conflict advances higher team performance (Stevens & Campion, 1994) because the team is not pulled towards disharmony and disunity. Some form of task conflict is seen as functional as it aids the goals of the team and accentuates the team's performance (Jehn, 1997). Hughes (2014) asserts that transformational leader challenges assumptions that are established and re-examine to look at their current significance - this may induce some light conflict which is healthy for the team and this is known as intellectual stimulation. Transformational leaders are high on morals, emphasize superior principles, are fair in their dealings, appealing and magnetic, and embolden alignment among leader-follower values (Antonakis, Avolio, & Sovasubramaniam, 2003), these actions and values of transformational leaders reduce conflict among team members. Gefen et al., (2008) &Walumbwa et al., (2008) assert that employees get a sense of justice under transformational leadership. Significantly, Cho & Dansereau (2010) acknowledge that the behaviors of TL encourage followers to believe that the leader will deal with them fairly and equally. This also signifies that TL does not indulge in any biases and their leadership would curb any conflict arousing from perceived biases among team members.

Zhang, X., & Bartol, K. (2010) assert that transformational leaders bring 'we' identity among the group. One of the six dimensions of transformational leadership as drawn by Podsakoff et al. (1990) is "fostering the acceptance of group goals". Lim, B. C, & Ployhart, R. E. (2004) contend that transformational leaders mitigate conflict by taking individual team member away from their self-interest and pushing for a shared purpose. Hence, under TL either conflicts in teams may not arise or they would not become dangerous to harm the team.

Conclusion, Managerial Implications, Limitations & Future Direction

Transformational Leadership as a construct works at multiple levels: individual and team (Jung, Yammarino, & Lee, 2009; Liao & Chuang, 2007). TFL behaviors are vibrant and functional in influencing follower's beliefs and behaviors to attain team goals. Tse and Chiu (2014), Wang and Howell (2010), and Wu et al. (2010) have exhibited the influence of TFL transversing various levels in a team setting and are specifically related to team-level processes and outcomes. This study theoretically demonstrated the influence of transformational leadership behaviors on team processes (coordination, communication, performance feedback, cohesion, and conflict management) emanating from similarities of TL behaviors/traits and the requirements of specific team processes. It then configures that TL behavior aligning with team processes will lead to team effectiveness.

Top management in organizations can also infer some important lessons from this proposed model. As teams are important for organizational performance and TL improves key team processes, management to look at transformational leadership as a dominant leadership model. Leadership potential should be gauged by TL traits in the employee and future training for leadership capabilities will have to incorporate TL behaviors. All key positions that coordinate or lead teams should be manned by transformational leaders.

This work has focused only on a few critical team processes that are relevant for the effectiveness of teams. This is a limitation as other relevant features of teams have not been incorporated, though it is balanced by incorporating well-established team processes. Also, other leadership styles like authentic leadership, servant leadership are gaining importance due to the high demand for moral and principled leaders that could have been studied in the context of team processes and its linkage to team performance.

The future direction of research going ahead could cover specific industries bringing in quantitative research. Some team processes may be critical somewhere and marginalized at other places. Studies can empirically investigate the effect of transformational leadership on team effectiveness with various team processes as moderating variables. This would further validate and enhance this conceptual model as different sectors have different needs and challenges, so teams are structured and operationalized differently.


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Lalit Kumar Yadav

Assistant Professor, Shri Ram Murti Smarak International Business School, Lucknow.

Manisha Seth

Associate Professor, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Lucknow.

Paper received on June 26, 2020

Revised paper received on August 01, 2020

Paper accepted on August 12, 2020
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Author:Yadav, Lalit Kumar; Seth, Manisha
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Date:Jan 1, 2021
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