History has shown time and again that effective leadership can make the difference between success and failure in almost any type of setting. Indeed, truly effective leadership in the workplace can produce valuable outcomes that far outweigh the meager resources that were used to achieve them. While the importance of effective communication methods is a consistent theme in the organizational leadership literature, other factors have also been identified as contributing to successful team outcomes, including mutual respect, accountability and commitment. Although there are no "one-size-fits-all" approaches to effective team leadership, it is possible to identify what techniques, strategies and tactics have been shown to work under different circumstances to develop a set of best practices that can generally inform team leaders in their efforts to lead their teams in achieving organizational goals. To this end, this paper reviews the literature concerning the relevant theories, principles, roles, strategies, tactics and the overall importance of team communication. An analysis of the role of a team leader in supporting team performance in the modern workplace is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Effective Communication Techniques for Teams
Because all companies consist of people, there has been a great deal of research conducted over the years concerning what types of leadership and communication are the most effective in achieving organizational goals. Moreover, many of the conventional theories that emerged from this research have been revisited in recent years in response to the introduction of innovations in information and communications technologies that have fundamentally altered the workplace of the 21st century. To identify current best practices in this area, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning the theories, principles, roles, strategies, tactics and overall importance of team communication, as well as the role of a team leader in supporting team performance in the modern workplace. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Theories and Principles
The growing body of knowledge concerning leadership theories has provided a number of popular theoretical approaches, some of which, such as Leader-Member Exchange and Transformational -- Transactional Leadership, are better researched than others (Murphy & Riggio, 2003). By and large, though, Murphy and Riggio note that, "Most of the theories developed to date are (a) theories of supervision rather than of leadership, (b) theories that are very narrow in their focus, and (c) theories that are so esoteric that one cannot make sense of them" (2003, p. 29). Notwithstanding these constraints and limitations, it is possible to determine what type of leadership theory may be most appropriate for evaluating the needs of a team in any given workplace setting based on what level of outcomes are involved. In this regard, Betts and Santoro (2007) report that, "Leadership theories can be clustered into two main groups - micro level and macro level. Micro level theories are targeted toward individual, dyadic and small group phenomenon. Macro level theories are targeted toward organizational and societal level phenomenon" (p. 2). For the purposes of identifying the importance of effective communication methods in team-based settings therefore requires a micro-level leadership theory such as transformational leadership (Betts & Santoro, 2007). In sum, transformational leadership involves "transforming" a less effective organization into a more effective one based on various leadership principles.
An overarching principle of effective leadership involves trust based on authentic attributes that followers will respect and admire. While different leadership techniques may be required depending on the setting, these core attributes will remain essentially the same. In this regard, Feiner emphasizes that, "Leadership is about building followership and it's your values that build followership. And, its substance and character, not style, that determine followership. People follow not just because of what you do, but because of who you are" (2005, para. 3). This leadership principle has assumed even greater importance and relevance in virtual workplace settings. For instance, Betts and Santoro note that, "Virtual teams show a particular link between trust in leaders and team effectiveness" (2007, p. 3). Irrespective of what type of team is involved, though, there will be a need to distinguish between the roles played by the different team members and its leader, and these issues are discussed further below.
The team leader and individual team members have important roles in the dissemination and processing of project-related information. On the one hand, team leaders are responsible for ensuring that everyone on the team has received the information they need to understand what the team leader's expectations as well as the goals that are associated with a successful project outcome. For example, Clutterbuck emphasizes that, "Team members need very clear direction and an opportunity to explore what the task means, both individually and collectively" (2001, para. 2). Indeed, the need for specificity with respect to the communication content is a consistent theme in the relevant literature concerning effective team leadership. In this regard, Hackman cautions that when team leaders do not adequately clarify the vision for the team, team members will struggle, work at cross purposes, and often fail in their attempts to complete the assignment. For instance, according to Hackman, "Direction that is unclear or highly abstract can waste members' time and embroil them in needless conflicts as they try to figure out what it is that they are really supposed to do" (2002, para. 3). Because resources are by definition scarce, it is vitally important to have a strategy available to help ensure that communication is effective and that it is understood in the same way by all team members and these issues are discussed further below.
One of the most popular strategies for achieving organizational goals is the use of teams. According to Betts and Santoro, "In the team-based organization the use of teams is regarded as the organization's best way of utilizing its human capital and in developing long-term competitive advantage. Increased productivity is typically the reason to implement a team system" (2007, p. 3). In order to achieve increased productivity, though, all team members must be working from the same guidelines and towards the same outcome as articulated by the team leader. It is entirely possible for a team leader to make every human effort to ensure that all team members have received all of the information they need to achieve their individual and team-level goals but for one or several or even all of the team members to either misinterpret this guidance or to ignore it altogether. Because team members are just human, they may be better communicators some days than others, and keeping track of who knows what can be a daunting enterprise in even small team settings. Moreover, keeping track of progress and making sure that everyone in the team is working toward the same goals require ongoing oversight and diligence on the part of the team leader. Certain tactics have been shown to be useful, though, in motivating team members to achieve their goals and take the initiative to gather the information they need without such micromanagement strategies, and these tactics are discussed further below.
Rather than resort to the traditional "give-'em-hell or give-'em-a-dollar" tactics that describe many approaches to team motivation, a superior approach is to use inspirational leadership tactics to motivate team members to achieve organizational goals. According to Betts and Santoro, "Inspirational leadership refers to the process of influencing major changes in the attitudes of the organization's members and in building commitment for the organization's mission and objectives. This notion is consistent with what is referred to as transformational leadership" (2007, p. 2). This tactic requires a basic reevaluation of the role of a leader in an increasingly virtualized workplace. In this regard, Betts and Santoro emphasize that, "In team-based organizations traditional leader attention to individual power and achievement needs to be replaced by collaboration and communication skills and emotional intelligence" (2007, p. 3). To achieve this shift from conventional transactional leadership, Betts and Santoro suggest that elements of charismatic leadership should be combined with transformation leadership in new ways that can inspire team members to work toward a common goal. According to these authorities, "This approach requires a shift from transactional to transformational leadership. By incorporating the important notions of charismatic and transformational leadership much insight can be gained of commitment and beliefs of employees. The specific link between transformational leadership and team performance has received little attention" (Betts & Santoro, 2007, p. 3).
By applying transformational leadership tactics in ways that encourage team members to "buy in" to the team leader's vision, an inspirational leadership framework will be created that will improve the communication network in several ways, including the following:
1. Team members will be motivated to read and understand the information they receive;
2. Team members will be motivated to seek out additional information or clarification when needed (this is probably the most important feature);
3. Team leader oversight requirements will be reduced, allowing more time for collaboration rather than repetition and redundant clarification.