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Monday, November 18, 2013

How Does Improper Use of Power Limit Group Performance?


Most people who have been in the working world for sometime have come across a situation where a single person uses power and authority with a dominating communication style to push their will on a corporate board, team, or workplace. Research by Tost, et. al (2013) discusses some of the pitfalls of doing so and the eventual decline of team performance. As performance declines so does the ability of organizations to generate income through collaborative effort and idea generation. 

Politicized workplaces are stressful and generally unproductive. According to Eisenhardt and Bourgeois (1988), when there is power inequality within the workplace political conflict rises and team performance declines. Teams should be well balanced to ensure that there is equity of power and the ability to discuss concepts openly for better idea generation. 

Power should be used to help push good ideas through to create greater productivity. However, when power is used to diminish the brainstorming process the best ideas do not come forward. There is a natural propensity for people to defer all major decisions to those that have the formal power. We all know that those that have the formal power do not always know the right answers or have failed to grasp alternative positions. Power, Leadership and Formal Authority can be summed up as follows:

Power: The ability of a person to control outcomes, how people perceive expenses, or push people in certain behaviors (Keltner, et. al, 2003). 

Leadership: The ability to influence others to work toward group objectives and goals (Bass, 2008). 

Formal Authority: Holding a position that that allows for a specific role within social hierarchy (Peabody, 1962).

Power, leadership, and formal authority maintain the ability to influence the outcomes of the group’s decisions. There are times when this can be beneficial once a final decision has been made and concise action is needed. However, preempting or cutting short the decision process may end up costing the organization later in terms of strategic outcomes as well as future willingness of employees to express themselves fully. 

Open communication within teams is essential in determining of the team’s performance (Dionne et. al, 2004).  Freethinking employees are more likely  to make novel solutions. Strategic decisions require the ability to perceive and understand various outcomes. As thoughts build on each other, open communication affords a better brain storming session. 

The authors conclude that the formalization of power into the hand of an individual limits the overall team performance. The leader’s subjective perspectives of power leads them to seek additional power derailing the performance process. The more power a leader feels the more their behavior changes and the more people defer to their power. Followers must willingly give up the power for the leader to gain additional influence. 

The research is important for avoiding the concepts of “group think” which limits a team’s performance. As leaders become more engrained in the perception of their power gain, the more their behavior prompts team members to give up the authority. The end result of such power deference is poor decisions, poor consequences, and potentially disastrous results. Even though it is possible for a single person to break the cycle by asking the right questions the social structure may try and force adherence leading to a lack of empowerment and performance for the whole group.

Bass, B. M. 2008. The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications. New York: Free Press.

Dionne, et. al (2004). Transformational leadership and team performance. Journal of Organizational Management, 17: 177–194.

Eisenhardt, K.  & Bourgeois, L. (1988). Strategic decision making in high-velocity environments: Toward a midrange theory. Academy of Management Journal, 31: 737–770.

Keltner, et. al. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110: 265–284.

Peabody, R. (1962). Perceptions of organizational authority: A comparative analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 6: 463–482.

Tost, et. al. (2013). When power makes others speechless: the negative impact of leader power on team performance. Academy of Management Journal, 56 (5).

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