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Literature Review on Team Structures and Development

Info: 8377 words (34 pages) Example Literature Review
Published: 26th Jan 2022

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Tagged: PsychologyTeamwork


Organizations are complex entities that often defy the static definitions of the past. Adding to this complexity is a noticeable move towards a more horizontal or distributed leadership style and the use of teams. Teams are made of people with differing needs, wants and objectives. This article reviews existing literature on what teams are, how teams are organized and how social network analysis might help in leadership and team development. Implications and areas for continued research are also discussed.

Keywords: Leadership, leadership development, teams, team development, social network analysis, complexity theory, perceptions, compilational emergence.

Subjective Perceptions in Team Dynamics

The corporate world of the twenty-first century is dominated by organizations as it was for most of the twentieth century.  For the purpose of this article an organization is defined as a group of people gathered together for market purposes (E. Huber, personal communication, January 8, 2018). However, the biggest change to the corporate environment in the twenty-first century is the growing presence of “teams” embedded in the organizational structure. Teams add flexibility and adaptability to a rigid organizational structure. However, for a team to operate like a well-oiled machine, it requires more than the organizational super-structure and the team. The grease for this machine is the multiple social networks that unite the individuals and provide the conduit for the flow of cognitive and material resources. Therefore, this article examines teams, team organization, and then turns to the role of social networks in teams.


Defining what constitutes teams may be harder than it first appears. In English, groups and teams are terms that, for the most part, are used interchangeably. However, there are important differences that necessitate researchers treat the two differently. Groups are people who associate for the purpose of socializing and pleasure, like a dinner group or site-seeing group. Teams, on the other hand, are people who associate for the purpose of accomplishing a specific task. Humphrey and Aime (2014) note the embeddedness and the fluidness of teams in the larger organization. Not only can the members of the team change as the tasks change but, teams are often mobile and can move within and between organizations when necessary.

The Conceptualization of Teams

Researchers conceptualize teams as either compositional or compilational. The historical position has been that teams emerge “compositionally.”

Compositional. “Compositional” emergence is defined as the process by which the team arrives at a group consensus and is like-minded. Thus, compositionally, the team is considered homogenous (Emich & Lu, 2016, p.152). This has to do with how the team as a whole views or understands the team environment. Compositional emergence can be measured through mean scores to further understand team efficacy and psychological safety (Emich & Lu 2016). Because of the consensus, or “sharedness” of certain compositional aspects of teams, these characteristics are defined as “shared unit constructs” or properties (Crawford & Lepine, 2013, p. 33).  Ormiston (2016) holds that a multi-level theory based on “optimal distinctiveness theory” (ODT) can explain the impact of personal experiences on team outcomes (p. 223). ODT capitalizes on the uniqueness of the team members.

Compilational. Emich & Lu (2016) propose that individuals are viewed compilationally.  “Compilational” emergence occurs when team members exhibit divergent thoughts, behaviors, characteristics, and motives (Emich & Lu, 2016, p. 152; Crawford & Lepine, 2013, pp. 32-33).  Because teams are composed of unique individuals, this type of emergence is more common (Emich & Lu, 2016) and may result in team conflict. Since compilational emergence is individual and does not represent a group consensus, these aspects of the team are measured or understood through “configural constructs” that reflect the variety of patterns observed in the team members (Crawford & Lepine, 2013, p. 33). For example, the motives of self-esteem, belonging, and distinctiveness examined by Ormiston (2016) could be viewed as “configural constructs”. “Configural constructs” are defined as the variety of patterns that result from individual characteristics and team interactions (Crawford & Lepine, 2013, p. 33).

Since the 1980s, there has been a shift toward a compilational definition of teams. McGrath (1984) contends the heart of a group/team is essentially relational. The “behaving together” that assumes an ongoing relationship. The view of McGrath (1984) that individual team members come into the team with unique skill sets, behaviors, and opinions is confirmed and affirmed by other researchers (Emich & Lu, 2016 ; Emich & Wright, 2016). Teams are groups of distinct individuals impacting each another (Emich & Wright, 2016) while performing interdependent tasks (Joshi & Knight, 2015) in order to achieve a specific goal. Additionally, teams consist of people sharing the responsibility for set outcomes (Hollenbeck, Elis, Humphrey, Garza, & Ilgen, 2011). Therefore, while the individual components of teams are important, teams function collectively not individually (Emich & Wright, 2016). Furthermore, it has been noted that teams motivate the team members to act in a selfless manner (Anderson, Srivastava, Beer, Spataro, & Chatman, 2006). Will (2016) contends teams are complex adaptive systems that exhibit moods, shared social processes, emotions, and reactions, which Barsade (2002) refers to as “contagion” (p. 644), that have been shown to affect group dynamics. Epitropaki, Kark, Mainemelis, and Lord (2017) establish that teams consist of leaders and followers connected to each other and a collective identity group. In short, teams are complex entities (Emich & Lu, 2016).

An example of the “compositional” and “compilational” complexity of team dynamics that led to a team failing to live up to expectations is the New York Yankees acquisition of A-Rod in 2004. Exemplifying what can happen when leader’s fail to consider existing team dynamics in the hiring process. Emich and Wright (2016) cite the NY Yankees acquisition of A-Rod as a prime example of a team that lost synergy and energy, thus failing to live up to expectations of a world-series run and win. This demonstrates the impact one team member can have on the entire team. Barsade (2002) contends that cohesive teams produce energy and synergy that feed positive contagion, which leads to less intergroup conflict  and aids intergroup perceived helping behavior (De Jong, Van der Vegt, & Molleman, 2007; Emich, 2014). Though it is true that teams are task oriented with a common goal, teams also influence team members emotionally, psychologically and intellectually.

Even though teams are often defined by a specific task, like winning a World Series baseball title, developing a better mouse trap or successfully separating conjoined twins, it can be said that teams share a number of characteristics. To begin with, teams are made up of two or more individuals who interact with and influence the other members of the team in order to complete a specific task.  Second, teams exhibit compositional emergence which enables the team to unite and leverage group strengths for a specific purpose. However, since teams are made up of distinct individuals who come to the team with a unique set of perceptions, behaviors, expectations, and motives, teams also exhibit compilational emergence. As Emich and Wright (2016) note, in the case of a jury, compilational emergence could lead to an acquittal. Or as in the case of the New York Yankees and A-Rod, it could lead to team dysfunction. Finally, teams are also adaptive systems because of the interaction that takes place between the team members (Will, 2016). It is this interaction that makes teams susceptible to positive and negative contagion (Barsade, 2002). Not only are teams made up of individual subjective systems, teams are also subjective systems in their own right (Emich & Wright, 2016). As such, some teams can adapt to new tasks while others dissolve after the designated task has been completed. For instance, an ad hoc team assigned to determine whether redistricting school geographic lines would be more effective than building a new school is an example of a team that would no longer be needed once the information was gathered and a decision had been reached. Because team members can influence others and the team, understanding how teams are organized is important.

Team structure

Crawford and Lepine (2013) propose that team interactions are structural and occur in patterns.  Overbeck, Correll and Park (2005) posit that when informal groups emerge, a “status hierarchy” needs to be established (p. 171). An order of authority and operational procedure is necessary to assure the team functions correctly as it works toward its stated goal. Some teams will assume the familiar top down structure, while others prefer a revolving form of leadership in which the team member with the needed expertise takes the role of leader when that expertise is needed.

Status Hierarchy

“Status hierarchy” is created by team members to establish a recognized order of authority that clarifies resource allocation and team processes (Anderson, Srivastava, Beer, Spataro, & Chatman, 2006, p. 1094).   Kim (2014) adds that the status hierarchy is a manifestation of the social networks in which the team members are embedded. While some scholars have demonstrated that homogeneity of attitudes and demographics can foster team cohesion, other research has found that role differentiation is required for team success. Therefore, group needs often dictate the status hierarchy. Additionally, teams could use social status and referent power to generate a hierarchy of authority. French and Raven’s (2004) study Power, Influence and Change, identifies “referent power” as an individual, personal and leadership quality that make others desire to follow certain people. “Referent power” can thus act as a cue that determines role models worth imitating (p. 155).

Team Relationships

Status is primarily relational and an intragroup dynamic. Thus relationships are status signals to other team members (Overbeck, Correll, & Park, 2005). Balkundi and Kilduff (2006) confirm this when they posit that understanding leadership as social capital refers to how people tend to collect around perceived leaders and establish team hierarchy. Colbert (2004) suggests that nonverbal cues within the team signal leadership emergence. The research conducted for this dissertation identifies the following nonverbal cues: gazing patterns, eye contact and head gestures as methods team members use to establish rapport and group affinity. In essence, these nonverbal cues act as a contagion network within the group. Confirming the position held by Barsade (2002).

Team hierarchy often depends on the purpose of the team. For example, sports teams are structured by a given set of rules that determine team size and player positions. The manager of the team then tries to build a cohesive team by acquiring the best players for those positions. In the corporate environment, there may be work teams, project teams, strategic teams, and research and development teams. Formal teams are made up of people hand-picked or hired to fill a specific role, which implies the existence of a designated leader; whereas informal, possibly self-emergent, teams have to establish a structure of authority for team functionality. This structure of authority is needed even when teams are made up of people of equal standing, in a distributed leadership model. Authority structures make efficient work flow and knowledge sharing possible. Knowledge sharing enables teams to leverage the strengths of the individual team members.

Team Processes

There are different ways to achieve an authority structure in teams. Previous research has identified team communication, hierarchies, and the connection of team effectiveness and team relations, as team constructs.

Taskwork and Teamwork

Taskwork and teamwork have also been shown to be structures that can improve team bonding. Research examining taskwork and teamwork demonstrates the two are structured differently. Crawford and Lepine (2013) suggest that the “taskwork network” is concerned with how to complete team tasks, while the “teamwork network” reveals how the team members interact with one another to accomplish team objectives (p. 32). These authors contend that informal team structures emerge compilationally through existing team social networks. Additionally, it is suggested that team structures can explain abuse of power, the presence of cliques and other team processes.


Joshi and Knight (2015) contend deference is a way that informal teams establish hierarchy and order to ensure effective team practices. Deference is the process by which team members confer status. Team members often use demographic cues to establish a team hierarchy.  These authors researched how perceived “task contributions pathway” and “status characteristics theory” affect deference (pp. 62-63). “Task contributions pathway” are defined as the perceived contributions certain demographic attributes add to task completion (p. 63). “Status characteristics theory” asserts that status is conferred on certain team members as a result of demographic features such as gender, ethnic background, education, and age (p. 62).  Joshi and Knight (2015) also propose that team deference is further shaped by “specific cues and “diffuse cues(p. 63). Education and tenure are considered “specific cues” and these correspond to the task by indicating the value placed on the resulting contributions. “Diffuse cues” refer to areas of perceived aptitude. Gender and ethnicity fall into this category. These cues are referred to as diffused because they arise indirectly through the subjective perceptions that team members hold about personal, interpersonal and team efficacy. So as one team member defers to another, the team begins to build a knowledge basae of each team member’s area of expertise (Joshi, & Knight, 2015).

Transactive Memory System

Emich and Wright (2016) call this knowledge base a transactive memory system. This system is defined as the knowledge of individual team member’s skill sets (p. 4). Although this map may not be observable in every day team functioning, as Emich and Wright (2016) note in comparing FEMA’s reaction to Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, this systems presence or lack thereof becomes apparent in times of crisis. It was noted that, with Hurricane Katrina, FEMA repeatedly turned away local agencies that were familiar with local needs and set up to address those needs. But, with Super Storm Sandy, FEMA embraced the local infrastructure, resulting in a better coordinated disaster response. This is a perfect example of deference between agencies.

Demographic Cues

Joshi and Knight (2015) note that other scholars Barton and Bunderson discovered that demographic sources such as gender, race and education are powerful for another reason. It appears that these demographic cues also shape social affinity. In other words, gender, race and education can, in some cases, become the foundation for interpersonal relationships and friendship. Here again, scholars assert that individual and team perception patterns play a key role in facilitating the progress from deference to friendship. While deference flows from the bottom up, among those of equal status deference has been observed to flow horizontally. Therefore, horizontal deference could be seen as an internal mechanism team members use to prevent inter-team rivalries that could upset the team authority structure (Joshi, & Knight, 2015). Phillips, Weisbuch and Ambady (2014) assert that leaders need to be able to sense the climate of the team in order to respond appropriately to expressed group needs and aspirations. Understanding these social processes helps leaders motivate and encourage the members of the team.

Group Norms

Another potential structural mechanism which takes into account the role of perceptions is group norms. Phillips, Weisbuch and Ambady (2014) and Will (2016) see group norms as yet another mechanism by which structural authority is established in teams. As Phillip, Weisbuch and Ambady (2014) note, group norms have been identified as one potential mechanism that has the ability to shape a person’s perception of another. And Will (2016) contends that group norms control team behaviors. In a study of a hypothetical faculty collective comparing flock leadership and the NetLogo flocking model, Will (2016) identifies five norms that aid in establishing structure in groups or teams. These group norms include:

Uniqueness Norm. Will (2016) holds the “uniqueness norm” asserts that while the need to belong may engender the need to conform, people are unique individuals and as such develop unique perceptions and response patterns (p. 266). The uniqueness norm may also account for independent thinking, creativity and passion which would also be considered a mechanism for compilational emergence in teams (Emich & Lu, 2016; Crawford & Lepine 2013).

Communication Norm. “Communication norm” consists of two dynamics. First, this norm involves effective communication which is clear and understandable (Will, 2016, p. 267). Listening is the second dynamic of the communication norm which enables team members to learn from each other and transfer the necessary knowledge. This group norm is important because the strength of a team’s ability to communicate and understand one another often makes or breaks the team.

Consensus Norm. “Consensus norm” is the tendency of a group to develop shared interpretations (Will, 2016, pp. 267-268). Will (2016) notes that the uniqueness norm and the consensus norm pull team members in opposite directions. Thus, the strength of the desire to belong versus the desire to be unique will determine the strength of the consensus and uniqueness norms. This norm corresponds to the compositional emergence discussed by Emich and Lu (2016) and Crawford and Lepine (2013) as well as the bonding social capital referenced by Ryu (2015) and Andriani and Christoforou (2016).

Conformity Intolerance Norm. “Conformity intolerance norm” is pretty much what the name implies, an individual’s resistance to shared behaviors (Will, 2016, p. 268). Will (2016) notes that this norm may be the result of an existing rivalry between team members. In addition, conformity intolerance could also indicate team indecisiveness. However, Overbeck, Correll and Park (2005) suggest that establishing a team hierarchy may alleviate this type of resistance because the team structure can be used to compel team members to conform in order to achieve task goals. While the contributorship proposed by Brake (2017), which assumes that followers as contributors act selflessly by putting team objectives before personal goals, is another way to neutralize this counterproductive group norm.

Peer Exposure Norm. “Peer exposure norm” is a group norm that psychology and organizational literature identify as either group connectedness or network centrality (Will, 2016, p. 268). Both deal with how connected a particular team member is to the other team members.  Peer exposure norm, group connectedness, and network centrality all deal with relationships. Overbeck, Correll and Park (2005) posit that these team interactions are status cues.


However, in the literature on leaders and leadership, Brake (2017) notes that the importance of followers is largely missing. Current research sees the role of followers as co-producers. In that vein, Brake (2017) puts forth the construct of “contributorship as an appropriate lens into the modern role of followers.  “Contributorship” is defined as the value added through a person’s influence and involvement in achieving team goals (Brake, 2017, p. 121).  As such, Brake (2017) notes that “contributorship” applies to every team member regardless of the status or authority structure.  In today’s work environment, every team member is expected to contribute.

Task Interdependence

Another view of team structure coming from the research of Courtright, Thurgood, Stewart and Pierotti is on team interdependence. It proposes that the task and relational aspects of teams result from intentional leader and follower initiatives aimed at working together. These authors reference two types of interdependence at work in teams; “task interdependence” which stablishes how the members of the team interact and “outcome interdependence” which looks at the level and quality of team interactions during taskwork (p. 5). The article contends that these forms of “interdependence” are mutually beneficial to team functioning and that successful teams will purposively engage in both (pp. 1-2). Further, it is suggested that “interdependence” can be designed into teams by purposefully composing the team of members with differing skill sets. An example of organizational and team interdependence is Samaritans Purse. This organization has rapid response teams which respond immediately to crises worldwide. However, the great resources available from the organizational structure enable those responses to be well equipped for the situation.

Social Networks

Carter, DeChurch, Braun and Contractor (2015) posit the complex and fluid global work environment necessitates that researchers reconceptualize leadership. Kim (2014) claims that in this new leadership context, traditional organizational management involves managing existing relationships while cultivating new ones vertically within a leaders own authority structure and also laterally with positional peers in other teams and organizations. The view of leadership involving complex relations nested in social networks is what drives social network research (Carter, DeChurch, Braun, & Contractor, 2015; Balkundi & Kilduff, 2006).  This part of the paper turns to how social networks function as perception networks in teams (Ibarra, Kilduff, &, Tsai, 2005).

Network Micro-Dynamics

Along with Humphrey and Aime (2014), Carter, DeChurch, Brau and Contractor (2015), see the need to view leadership as a micro-dynamic relational process. Teams embody individual differences, different team member needs, different abilities, as well as situational complexities sometimes occurring simultaneously in a fluid network of interdependencies. These researchers posit understanding the mechanisms that determine what teams do, how teams do what they do, and why teams succeed or fail has to begin at the micro level. As previously noted leadership is relational and is made up of formal and informal leaders. This lines up with the social network’s definition of leadership which states that leaders are identified by the social capital that gravitates to certain people in the team (Balkundi, & Kilduff, 2006). These social/relational networks are made up of ties that connect dyads, two people. These ties have been described as instrumental ties, which transfer task relevant information necessary for task completion and expressive ties which act as emotional and affiliative conduits (Kim, 2014).  Although networks and social capital are connected, these terms constitute two very different processes. According to Burbaugh and Kaufman (2017) networking is concerned with how relationships are built and maintained. Social capital can be and is viewed as a resulting benefit of those relationships. Given the importance of networks and social capital in the leadership context, Cullen-Lester, Maupin and Carter (2017) suggest that developing networks should become an integral part of leadership development programs.

Therefore, it can be said that identity and power both depend on social networks.  Kim (2014) posits that a leader’s power is contingent on centrality within the team networks.  More importantly, Kim notes researchers have already established team members’ perceptions of a leader’s power help define the leader’s actual power. It should also be noted that some research into the network centrality of leaders suggests that in some cases, centrality can become a leadership constraint. Here it is possible that in some cases, the need to maintain relationships may color a leaders ability to act effectively or objectively.

Team Efficacy and Helping Behaviors

On the other hand, Emich (2014) notes that pervious research indicates that team members sometimes work inefficiently knowing that other team members can or will pick up the slack. This can result in team ineffectiveness as other team members subsequently reduce individual task effort allocation and withhold helping behavior from slacking team members. It is believed that individual efficacy, team efficacy, effort allocation, and helping are perception driven.  Emich (2014) points out that this scenario reveals how one team member can impact team cohesion and outcomes. Further, it is suggested that teams might map out necessary effort allocation in tasks to prepare for this possible situation.


And these networks are integral to leader/follower identity development within the team structure. Ibarra (1999) noted through a qualitative study on identity experimentation that people try on different role identities and role appropriate behaviors and evaluate the results before choosing a comfortable set of behaviors.

Role Experimentation. This role experimentation is called a “provisional self” (Ibarra, 1999, p. 764).   Role experimentation is repeated as people change jobs and roles within those jobs.  Consistent with that result, Ibarra, Kilduff and Tsai (2005) propose that identity does indeed emerge through network processes and the networks in which a person is embedded impacts that person’s identity development.

Self-Esteem, Belonging and Distinctiveness. Another study of the importance of identity conducted by Ormiston (2016) discovered that the tension between a person’s need to belong and the need to be distinctive influences individual perceptions about the group that have a direct bearing on team outcomes. This study established that group diversity is construed subjectively in terms of how the motives for “self-esteem”, “belonging” and “distinctiveness” are satisfied by the team (pp. 230-231). “Self-esteem” is defined as the motive behind identity development. This is important because self-perception accounts for a wide range of individual and group perceptions.  The “belonging” motive is defined by the primal need to belong. However, researchers have shown that being too similar or too distinct is counter-productive; too much of the former leads to the loss of identity, while too much of the latter leads to isolation. Thus, the “distinctiveness” motive, which is based on individual uniqueness, could explain some cases of compilational emergence in teams that were identified by Emich and Lu (2016) and Crawford and Lepine (2013) .

Social Capital

An alternative way to understand teams is to look at the types of “social capital” within the team. “Social capital” is defined as the resources intrinsically associated with relationships (Andriani, & Christoforou, 2016, p. 6). And social capital is made up “ties” that can be either strong or weak. “Ties” are defined as the connections or bonds between people in the same network (Andriana, & Christoforou, 2016, p. 8). In terms of social capital, Ryu (2017) notes that there are two kinds, “bonding” and “bridging” (p. 409). And leaders need to understand how to make use of both types.

Bonding Social Capital.  “Bonding social capital” is defined as networks that produce very cohesive groups that exhibit high degrees of loyalty and trust because these networks tend to be comprised of people with one or more demographic similarities (Ryu, 2017, p. 409), which create “strong ties” (Andriana & Christoforou, 2016, p. 8). Whether or not a bonding group begins homogenously; these groups tend to move toward homogony over time. An unfortunate result in bonding groups is that the groups tend to form closed groups (Andriana & Christoforou, 2016; Coffé & Geys, 2007) that limit creativity and exposure to new ideas. Ultimately this type of social capital may become a clique.

Bridging Social Capital. According to Coffé and Geys (2007), “bridging social capital” groups develop broader reaching networks (p. 124). “Bridging” groups avoid the inward focus of a closed group by building trust and rapport with outside groups and organizations with wide ranging interests and expertise. The ties that describe bridging groups are “weak ties” because these ties bridge networks (Andriani, & Christoforou, 2016, p. 8). These groups tend to be innovative. The main difference in these types of social capital is in how the group chooses to relate. However, it is not a matter of one form of social capital being better than another, both are useful. And teams often contain both types of capital (Coffé & Geys, 2007). Which form of social capital a leader uses depends on the situation and context (Ryu, 2017). In other words, while a crisis situation may call for the faster buy-in, trust and commitment associated with bonding groups, it may also be that thinking outside the box and the ability to leverage broader resources associated bridging groups may be a more effective approach.

Linking Social Capital and Structural Holes. But as Adriani and Christoforou (2016) note, social capital also has two other dynamics, “linking social capital” and “structural holes” (p. 12). “Linking social capital” is defined as the bonds or links created between groups of people with the same status hierarchy from different organizations. “Linking social capital” allows management teams from different organizations to share resources. Abbasi, Wigand, and Hossain (2014) refer to “structural holes” as areas where team members are not connected (p. 68). These structural holes may lead team members to create bonds with the disconnected team members, which are referred to as “network brokerage” (Abbasi, Wigand, & Hossain, 2014, p. 68).


As a result of this study, there are multiple implications for leaders. To begin with, this review of literature has shown that team structure, team processes and team cohesion are perception driven. Therefore, by gaining an understanding that perceptions and motives underpin group dynamics, leaders can better understand existing dynamics, help the team navigate team conflict and understand how to better encourage and motivate team members.

Next, a better understanding of the “bonding”, “bridging” and “linking” social capital within the team, can help leaders effectively use those different networks. As noted above, it is not a matter of one type of social capital being better that another. Understanding where the different types of social capital are within the team allows leaders to use the right social capital as the situation and context dictate. Additionally, it can be beneficial to identify informal leaders through the gathering clusters of social capital. Informal leaders represent a key power base. Since other team members watch and follow these leaders, they play an important role in getting team buy-in. The followers can assist the team by becoming network brokers for the members who are disconnected. This will actively help team cohesion and efficacy.

Furthermore, leaders need to take into consideration existing team dynamics in the hiring process.  As with the case of A-Rod, one person’s celebrity can alter the team dynamic in a detrimental way. On the other hand, as was the case in Twelve Angry Men, one person’s strength of character can lead to an acquittal (Emich, & Wright, 2016, p 2). It is important to understand how one person can alter the team and the team outcome. In addition, it is possible for leaders to design the need for task interdependence into the team based on team composition. In other words it is possible to design a team in such a way that the team must rely on one another’s expertise in order to complete the task. While this may increase team interdependency, it could also have the adverse effect of creating a team of experts who do not know how to collaborate with one another. Another way to encourage task interdependency is to encourage humility in the team. Leaders and followers can be humble, be men and women of their word, and do what they say they would do.

This review indicates that it is possible to gauge the underlying perceptions through deference, status cues and non-verbal cues.  These cues can help leaders understand and lead the team.  For example, by understanding that deference uses demographic cues, leaders can use deference to identify and correct team biases.   Thus it could be possible to head off gender inequality before it becomes a major issue for the team. Deference is one way teams establish a status hierarchy. However, deference can be a subliminal response. Therefore, followers should try to make acts of deference a conscious decision based on competence not merely demographic cues like gender, race or age.

In terms of belonging and distinctiveness cues in the team, leaders should acknowledge these motives as they are manifested in team members. These are expressions of real feelings that need to be acknowledged before it can be determined if the perceptions underneath the motives are accurate or need to be changed.  Followers should also become aware of these motives. Every team member can and should help the other team members with these motives by helping each other talk through the issues. Ultimately this can facilitate cohesiveness and team effectiveness. And non-verbal cues can tell a leader if the team is on board or not. Therefore, leaders and followers should become aware of the different cues that are being sent and received. A critical part of leadership is being acutely aware of the team members and the team cues.

It is important to recognize the place referent power has in identity creation. Leaders and team members should all strive to be examples worth following and imitating. Everybody is following someone. Therefore, choose the role model to follow wisely.

Transactive memory systems can be created through team exercises in which the team members need to discover and rely on the individual strengths in the team. By discovering and relying on those strengths, the team will know what to do in times of stress or crisis. Leaders should try to encourage the team to learn where these strengths are early in the team life cycle. Followers could take an interest in the other team members and begin the process by inquiring about past experiences.

Group norms are another way a status hierarchy is established in a team. Here, leaders should become aware of the different types of group norms. The beneficial norms should be encouraged. The norms that can become toxic, such as “conformity intolerance”, and the “uniqueness norm”, should be monitored.

Contributorship applies to both leaders and followers. Leaders should lead the way by getting involved and contributing. Then, leaders should allow the followers/team members to contribute. Follower/team members should attempt to become valuable team contributors.

Every team member should build their existing social networks and try to create ties with other networks. These ties will allow the team as a whole to draw from a rich supply of resources. The leader should encourage the team members to be social and become part of different networks. The advice is to build network connections.

Leaders should learn to distinguish the “compositional” and “compilational” emergence that occurs in teams (Emich, & Lu, 2016, p. 2). These two structural processes exist in some form within the team and can be capitalized on if recognized and appreciated. On the other hand, these processes also need to be closely monitored to prevent cliques and conflict.

But there are also numerous implications for followers here as well. Followers also need to be aware that social networks are perception networks. By understanding that contagion is a social dynamic, team members can head off unproductive contagion like gossip.

Recognizing how the internal structure of the team is established can benefit team members by revealing how knowledge and resources are allocated in the team. This knowledge can help team members determine who to go to for particular resources. This internal structure can also help team members develop a working identity for that particular team.   Identity formation is crucial in social interactions. Both leaders and followers need to know who they are and how they fit into the team.

Learning how to read belonging and distinctiveness trends in the team can help team members with interpersonal relations. By being cognizant of these cues, team members can help other team members adjust to the team, new tasks or environments. These cues account for compilational emergence when team members express the need to be distinctive or the desire to belong. These cues can also help team members gauge when the team is becoming to inwardly focused and make the necessary changes.

Leaders need to pay attention to the effort allocation of the different team members. Become aware of the issues that are causing some team members to slack off. Leaders must be proactive. The team members can also be proactive in this area. Don’t let an individual problem become a team problem. Try to identify the problem so it can be dealt with appropriately.


The literature reviewed for this article revealed that teams are comprised of multiple social networks. For this paper, these networks have been described in terms of emergence and social capital. Emergence can occur compositionally through consensus that leads to shared vision or compilationally in which team member’s thoughts, desires or motives are divergent. It has also been shown that teams can be described in terms of three types of social capital: “bonding social capital”, “bridging social capital” and “linking social capital”. “Bonding social capital” creates strong ties of trust and loyalty among team members. This type of social capital may be the result of compositional emergence which may be beneficial in a crisis when group buy-in and consensus needs to be achieved very quickly. However, these forms of emergence and social capital may also lead to a closed group with an intensely inward focus.

Teams are also structured. This internal configuration provides order and efficiency to team functions. As discussed, this structure can be created through deference, interdependence, demographic cues, motives for self-esteem, belonging, and distinctiveness.  Team emergence, structure and social networks have implications for leaders and team members alike.  Leaders that understand team structure and composition have a greater chance of being successful. Likewise, team members can choose to make competence rather than demographic cues the standard of deference. This is one way followers can take a stand against gender and racial inequality. In addition, leaders and followers alike should become involved in different types of networks and develop the different types of social capital. This research has demonstrated how the relational and perceptual networks effect teams. While some scholars are beginning to make sense of the subjective perceptions in teams, others are beginning to apply social networks to leadership development. There is still much to be learned about how perceptions interact, what triggers perception patterns or changes in perceptions, as well as, team strength of character, and collective leadership development.

The Aims of the Paper

The aim of this paper was to begin the process of synthesizing the existing literature on teams, subjective perception patterns and team structures. As a result, there has been a greater understanding and appreciation for the complexity of teams that can help people to be better team members and better emergent leaders. Additionally, this paper attempted to raise the awareness of the need to understand how subjective perceptions effect teams. Finally, this paper tried to define existing team constructs to hopefully help leaders and followers understand and identify what is going on and what actions may need to be taken when these dynamics are observed in teams.

What I Did

This paper begins the process of integrating existent literature on how emergent, self-actualizing teams establish structure and the role patterns of subjective perceptions play in team processes.

Future Research

This review of literature on what teams are, how teams are organized and the role of social networks in team perceptions has identified a number of avenues of research. To begin with, the social nature of organizations, teams, and leadership necessitates continued research into the role of perception patterns in team dynamics. Emich and Lu (2016) note additional research into self-focused perceptions patterns is needed. Furthermore, there remains a gap in understanding how these subjective systems interact. Another avenue for research could consider identifying what triggers these subjective patterns. Understanding how perceptions of conflict are resolved could also be explored. Then Emich and Wright (2016) add that team level strength of character, transactive memory systems and teams as networks need more research.

Cullen-Lester, Mauoin and Carter (2017) suggest that there is a need to create “developmental approaches that enable individuals to better understand, leverage, and shape their own networks and the networks of others” (p. 147). Research could also examine ways “to improve the accuracy of…network perceptions”, how a person changes their own network structure, or even how to improve “the leadership capabilities of collectives” (p. 147). In addition, the process of identity formation, recreation and maintenance has been put forth by Ibarra (1999) as an area of continued research.


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