Emergent leadership and team spirit: Applying Science in Practice
By Jaap Paauwe, Ramona van der Linden and Elke van Cassel (all from Tilburg University)

This workshop focused on the interrelatedness between (emergent) leadership and team spirit. Jaap Paauwe introduced a number of scientific concepts related to different aspects of (emergent) leadership and team spirit. Ramona van der Linden demonstrated how these insights have been applied in practice in Tilburg University’s Connected Leading program. Subsequently, the participants discussed the following question in small groups: ‘How will you utilize existing teams within your organization to develop team spirit and strengthen emergent/personal leadership?

Important points from the discussion:

  • The importance of setting team goals (and discussing them frequently) and assigning the different roles within the team. A properly functioning team requires a clear insight into different team roles and which person takes on what team role, based on personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • For temporary employees it can be more difficult to speak up within team meetings, given the fact that they might feel that this impacts their tenure decision. This is a dynamic we should be aware of. There is always a hierarchy, so it is important to create an open culture of feedback where everyone is invited to give and receive feedback. Role modelling is very important in this: if the supervisor demonstrates the ability to reflect on his or her own behavior, employees will feel free to do so as well.
  • Team spirit can result in a positive flow (for example, if a team receives a big grant), but the dynamic within a team can also be negative, even toxic. This is a risk. In changing teams that do not function well, replacing the leader can be very effective. It is important to intervene in teams that do not function well. The public sector is very often slow in intervening, compared to the business sector.
  • To develop teams and team spirit identity and a sense of belonging are important. Informally it is also important to share problems, struggles, which requires (psychological) safety. Problem: the drive for efficiency, effectiveness, economizing implies increasingly less time for informal meetings and leisure breaks. How can the university stimulate, strengthen a sense of belonging and ownership for the people involved?
  • Culture change is a long-term process. We need to keep repeating the same points and practices over and over again. For example, in the annual performance interviews we ask, ‘What have you done that helped those around you improve their way of working?’ We repeated this same question year after year.
  • We are all members of more than one team, but in our performance interview only one team is taken into consideration. We should explicate our role in those other teams through self-reflection and by including feedback from those other teams. This should not be formalized!
  • We should talk more about how instead of what in performance interviews. The default is to talk about the content of our research / teaching, not about our behaviors.
  • Dealing with conflicts is very important in teamwork. It is important to be able to work towards a solution together. Those in leadership positions play an important role in this (role modelling). There are, however, limits to what a team can endure. Teams have a certain lifespan.
  • We are asking a lot from those in leadership positions. In training offer it is important to build on strengths, to focus on strengthening those skills and competences that have brought the participants where they are today. In order to get everyone on board (the new, as well as the ‘older’ generation), the focus should not be on learning something because you are doing it wrong, but on building on experience and strengths. It is important to explicate norms and anchor them.