Contrasting Outcomes in Multiteam Systems – Part 5

Lessons from the study – Selection and training of MTS aircrew

The findings of Bienefeld and Grote’s study has implications for selection and training of crew to perform within and across teams for enhanced aviation safety [3]. The salient points were:-

Selection of MTS aircrews is to be based on the leadership potential of the crew, who can undertake shared leadership to be able to optimally utilise leadership requirements both within and across teams effectively. Especially for pursers, individuals with high leadership potential is recommended to be selected.

Crew resource management training for captains and pursers, the ‘boundary spanners’ [13] may need a realignment about their perceived understanding of their roles. The teams must discuss the complementary roles and responsibilities of team members, while actively practicing delegation of tasks and “explicitly taking on tasks” “to sharpen a sense of shared goals “. This encourages delegation of leadership tasks in emergencies while mobilizing all resources in MTS in actual emergency situations.

The high leadership potential of pursers is to be supported during training to “focus on the duality of within- and across-team leadership”. At the same time, captains, on top of the hierarchy, need to learn “about what it takes to establish a sense of leader inclusiveness” [14], “thereby empowering pursers without undermining a captain’s authority” [15].

Based on the concept of rotating leadership [11], It is suggested that flight attendants need to be actively involved in shared leadership process with training focussed on their proactive engagement in leadership behaviour when “formal leaders have failed to explicitly ask for help”. This is to nurture initiative and stepping up “to share the lead with pursers”. Airlines, as part of policy and procedure, may choose to designate one experienced flight attendant as “second in command” during preflight briefing for every flight.

Lastly to obviate unsuccessful MTS, joint leadership and crew resource management training is recommended. The training is to include practice of shared leadership strategies such as ‘rotating leadership’ [11] in simulated conditions, applying cross-training methods with swapping of roles “to develop shared mental models of team interaction and facilitating coordination across roles and teams” [16].


In words of Bienefeld and Grote: “Leadership training in MTS should address shared rather than merely vertical forms of leadership, and component teams in MTS should be trained together with emphasis on ‘boundary spanners’ dual leadership role. Furthermore, team members should be empowered to engage in leadership processes when required” [3].


1. Air Canada 797 [accessed on 04 May 2015]

2. Air France 358 [accessed on 04 May 2015]

3. Bienefeld N, Grote G. Shared leadership in multiteam systems: How cockpit and cabin crews lead each other to safety. Human Factors, 2014; 56 (2): 270-286

4. DeChurch LA, Marks MA. Leadership in multiteam systems. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2006; 91: 311-329

5. Pearce CL, Cogner JA. Shared leadership: reframing the how’s and why’s of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage; 2003

6. Klein KJ, Ziegert JC, Knight AP, Xiao Y. Dynamic delegation: shared, hierarchical, and deindividualized leadership in extreme action teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 2003; 51: 590-621

7. Kűnzle B, Zala-Mező E, Wacker J, Kolbe M, Spahn DR, Grote G. Leadership in anaesthesia teams: the most effective leadership is shared. Quality of Safety in Health Care, 2010; 19: 1-6

8. Mathieu J, Marks MA, Zaccaro SJ. Multiteam systems. In N Anderson, D Ones, HK Sinangil, C Viswesvaran (Eds.), International handbook of work and organizational psychology. London, UK: Sage; 2001: 289-313

9. DeChurch LA, Burke CS, Shuffler ML, Lyons R, Doty D, Salas E. A historiometric analysis of leadership in mission critical multiteam environments. Leadership Quarterly, 2011; 22: 152-169

10. Zaccaro SJ, DeChurch LA. Leadership forms and functions in multiteam systems. In SJ Zaccaro, MA Marks, and LA DeChurch (Eds.), Multiteam systems: An organization form for dynamic and complex environments. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2011; 253-288

11. Carson JB, Tesluk PE, Marrone JA. Shared leadership in teams: An investigation of antecedent conditions and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 2007; 50: 1217-1234

12. Marks MS, DeChurch LA, Mathieu JE, Panzer FJ, Alonso A. Teamwork in multiteam systems. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2005; 90: 964-971

13. Davison RB, Hollenbeck JR. Boundary spanning in the domain of multiteam systems. In SJ Zaccaro, MA Marks, and LA DeChurch (Eds.), Multiteam systems: An organization form for dynamic and complex environments. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011

14. Nembhard IM, Edmondson AC. Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in healthcare teams. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 2006; 27: 941-966

15. Bienefeld N. Leadership, boundary-spanning , and voice in high-risk multiteam systems (Doctoral dissertation). ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland 2012 [Summary (accessed on 08 May 2015)]

16. Marks MA, Sabella MJ, Burke CS, Zaccaro SJ. The impact of cross-training on team effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2002; 87: 3-13

Read More

Air Canada Flight 797

Air France Flight 358

Shared Leadership in Multiteam Systems

Bienefeld & Grote’s Study on Multiteam Systems

Acknowledgement Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


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