What does Bienefeld & Grote’s Study on Multiteam Systems (MTS) say?
Bienefeld and Grote  conducted a study on 84 cockpit and cabin crews (n = 504), simulating an in-flight emergency in a high fidelity simulator with two-man cockpit and a fully furnished passenger cabin. Their aim was “to examine the effect of shared leadership within and across MTS on team goal attainment and MTS success” with the premise that the shared leadership, with proven effectiveness in single teams, “may be an effective strategy to cope with challenges” faced by MTS. This was to understand leadership within and across teams, despite different and at times competing goals in MTS . The authors had three hypotheses :-
1. “In successful MTS aircrews, formal leaders (captains, pursers) and team members (first officers, flight attendants) display significantly more leadership than in unsuccessful MTS aircrews.”
2. “Only in successful MTS aircrews is leadership shared within teams, in that team members’ informal leadership adds incrementally to team goal attainment beyond the leadership of formal leaders.”
3. “Only in successful MTS aircrews is leadership shared across teams, in that pursers’ leadership adds incrementally to cockpit goal attainment beyond captains’ and first officers’ leadership.”
This study by Bienefeld and Grote offered empirical evidence “for the effectiveness of shared leadership in predicting team goal attainment and MTS success”. Following are the respective findings for each of their proposed hypothesis :-
1. All team members, except flight attendants, especially captains and pursers demonstrated significantly more leadership both within and across teams. First officers demonstrated better leadership in successful MTS aircrews.
Their findings for MTS aircrew was similar to that found for single teams in emergency situations, where shared leadership by formal leaders and team members is required when complexity and interdependence of tasks are high [6, 7]. This confirms that “shared leadership could be the most effective leadership form in MTS” .
2. Leadership of pursers was a significant predictor for team goal attainment only in successful MTS aircrews, unlike for captains where it was a significant predictor for both successful and unsuccessful MTS aircrews. Flight attendants demonstrated leadership within the team (cabin crew) for successful MTS aircrews unlike first officers who had no influence on team goal attainment beyond captains’ leadership in both successful and unsuccessful MTS aircrews.
Evidently flight attendants demonstrated ‘rotating’  type of dynamic shared leadership for successful MTS aircrews. They “stepped up and engaged in leadership behaviour whenever pursers were absorbed with other duties”, to step down to follow the pursers once the latter “resumed their formal leadership roles”.
For unsuccessful MTS aircrews not only did pursers demonstrate less leadership overall, flight attendants also failed to participate proactively with evident “leadership vacuum” symbolised by confusion and chaos.
As for captains’ leadership in unsuccessful MTS aircrews, “teams in MTS can fail collectively if component team goals are misaligned, even if individual teams attain their goals” [4, 12]. This could happen if the procedures for cockpit and cabin crew do not match, actions are counterproductive or timing of tasks is not coordinated .
This confirmed that “shared leadership of both formal leaders and team members predict team goal attainment” only in successful MTS aircrews for cabin crew whereas for captains, it was applicable for both successful and unsuccessful MTS aircrews.
3. It was found “that only in successful MTS aircrews was leadership shared across teams and pursers’ cross-team leadership predicted cockpit goal attainment beyond captains’ and first officers’ within-team leadership”.
It was evident that MTS aircrew were successful whenever the pursers performed dual leader role within and across teams, contributing to goal attainment in both teams. This happened since captains possibly could not lead across teams, most likely, due to physical separation from cabin crews being confined to the cockpit, unlike pursers who could become cross-team leaders, as ‘boundary spanners’  due to their unique position at the intersection between the teams. As “boundary spanners”, pursers could “gather, filter and distribute information critical to team goal attainment on both sides of the boundary” .
Shared Leadership in Multiteam Systems
Lessons from the Study on Multiteam Systems
Acknowledgement Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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