It’s better for leaders to entrust than inspire

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Knowledge sharing in teams is the gold standard for modern organizations. A recent study published in the European Management Journal examined how leadership style impacts knowledge sharing behaviors in the workplace. More specifically, the authors aimed to uncover the effect of two types of leadership, shared and transformational.

Shared leadership is seen when employees are assigned joint responsibility for activities that are traditionally overseen by a formal leader. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, involves a leader who takes on the role of coaching and inspiring collaboration among employees.

In the study, the researchers tested the hypothesis that these two types of leadership enhance perceptions of knowledge sharing behavior in the workplace, with one style in particular proving to be more effective.

In addition, they were curious to find whether this relationship had anything to do with an individual's psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness.

What the researchers uncovered was that one of the two leadership styles seems to win out over the other when it comes to fostering knowledge sharing behavior in the workplace.

Sharing your way to successful workplace communication

Decentralization of authority is a common theme in the contemporary workplace due to trends such as globalization. As a result, we increasingly find the need to enhance open communication between leaders and their workers, especially when organizations are faced with complex problems. Multi-faceted issues often require multi-faceted solutions, which is why the all-ruling “boss” is increasingly becoming replaced by more collaborative forms of leadership.

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Past research suggests that shared and transformational leadership are positively associated with knowledge sharing in the workplace. In other words, the feeling of joint responsibility of work-based problems makes us more likely to openly communicate with our work peers.  

Researchers have coined the term Self-determination theory (SDT) to describe the satisfaction of 3 basic psychological needs, autonomy, competence and relatedness.  Past research suggests that when we feel these needs are satisfied, we are more apt to share knowledge with our peers. As a result, the researchers in the current study propose that SDT could help explain the relationship between shared and/or transformational leadership and knowledge sharing in the workplace.

The study & findings

An entire population of 512 employees working in two Research & Development (R&D) units of a knowledge-intensive firm took part in a self-report questionnaire. The knowledge workers operate in a team and project-based environment and often hold joint responsibility for projects.

The first part of the self-report questionnaire was designed to measure employees’ perceptions of knowledge sharing among peers. An example of a statement used to measure this construct is: “People in my team are willing to share knowledge/ideas with one another”.  Each statement was rated on a 7-point scale. The second part of the questionnaire zeroed in on the satisfaction of employees’ basic psychological needs with relation to autonomy, competence and relatedness.

The third and fourth portions of the questionnaire focused on capturing individuals’ perceptions of transformational and shared leadership in their workplace. Sample statements include  “My leader is driven by higher purpose or ideas” for transformational leadership and “Each member of my group has a say in deciding how resources are allocated in regard to the teams priorities” for shared leadership. These were also rated on a 7-point scale.

The authors found a direct and positive relationship between knowledge sharing and shared leadership. However, the same could not be said for transformational leadership. Furthermore, the fulfilment of the autonomy need helped explain the link between shared leadership and knowledge sharing.

A shared leadership style seems to enhance employees’ knowledge-sharing behavior. On the flipside, transformational leadership did not show the same pattern of results. In situations where shared information can easily become fragmented, such as large group projects, fostering a culture of shared leadership can help avoid the disruption of shared knowledge between peers. The authors propose that a culture of shared leadership can help generate a sense of trust and reciprocity among peers and foster a stronger willingness to share information with one another.

Results Applied: Promote autonomy and collaboration

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

  1. Implement daily stand-up meetings to establish a collaborative culture. Stand-up meetings are meetings in which peers participate while standing on foot. The concept is quite a simple one- standing for long periods of time is uncomfortable and attendees are therefore persuaded to keep the meetings short and sweet.

    Why use stand-up meetings to promote collaborative leadership in your workplace? It allows your team the luxury of making ‘daily check-ins’ without the hassle of a drawn out round-table meeting.

    Try using the following three prompts to help cultivate an ‘open communication’ timeslot:

    i) What did I accomplish yesterday?
    ii) What do I plan to accomplish today?
    iiI) What might get in my way?

  2. Promote autonomy by providing choice. The current research shows us that when employees feel a sense of autonomy, they are more apt to openly communicate with their peers. A simple and effective way to grant your team members more autonomy is to provide them with choice.

    An easy way to implement this strategy is by utilizing flexible deadlines. For example, you might wish to have a project completed by the 17th. In this case, try assigning the ‘choice’ of having it complete anytime between the 14th and 17th.

  3. Reward small acts of leadership to promote collaborative leadership. If you plan on promoting a culture of collaborative leadership, it’s essential that you find ways to show some love for the leader-like acts of team members.

    A simple way of doing so is by implementing a ‘Book Board’ either in an online or real-life workspace. Here, team members can share books they’re reading that can positively influence the work of the team. At the end of the work term, reward the team members who’ve supplemented their work the most with their ‘extra credit’.

    Not only does this allow team members to showcase their leadership, it can also serve as another means of communication in a non-work environment.