A structurational perspective on leadership in technology-supported self-organizing small groups

TitleA structurational perspective on leadership in technology-supported self-organizing small groups
Publication TypeUnpublished
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsCrowston, K, Heckman, R, Misiolek, N
Date PublishedOctober
PublisherSyracuse University School of Information Studies
Type of WorkWorking Paper

In this conceptual paper, we present a structuration-based theory of leadership behaviours in virtual teams, that is to say, in self-organizing technology-supported small groups such as Free/Libre Open Source Software development teams. Such teams are often composed of members of relatively equal status or who are so disparate in background that formal organizational status seems irrelevant, reducing the usual leadership cues provided by organizational status and title. Building on behavioural leadership theory and structuration theory, we present a two-order theory of leadership. It describes four classes of first-order leadership behaviours (task coordination, substantive task contribution, group maintenance, and boundary spanning) and defines second-order leadership as behaviour that influences changes in the structure that guides group action. Specifically, we suggest that second-order leadership behaviours are those that build structures of signification in the form of interpretive schema, structures of domination in the form of role structures and structures of legitimation in the form of rules and norms. We argue that second-order leadership is enabled by first-order leadership, is therefore action embedded, and is grounded in processes that define the social identity of the group. We propose that effective teams will exhibit a paradoxical combination of shared, distributed first-order leadership complemented by strong, concentrated, and centralized second-order leadership. We conclude by suggesting future research that might be conducted to test and further elaborate our theory.

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