Why and When Hierarchy Impacts Team Effectiveness: A Meta-Analytic Examination

By Lindred Greer Bart De JongMaartje SchoutenJennifer Dannals
Journal of Applied Psychology
2018 Vol. 103 Pages 591-613.

Hierarchy has the potential to both benefit and harm team effectiveness. In this paper, we meta-analytically investigate different explanations for why and when hierarchy helps or hurts team effectiveness, drawing on results from 54 prior studies (N = 13,914 teams). Our findings show that, on net, hierarchy negatively impacts team effectiveness (performance: r = -.08; viability: r = -.11), and that this effect is mediated by increased conflict-enabling states. Additionally, we show that the negative relationship between hierarchy and team performance is exacerbated by aspects of the team structure (i.e., membership instability, skill differentiation) and the hierarchy itself (i.e., mutability), which make hierarchical teams prone to conflict. The predictions regarding the positive effect of hierarchy on team performance as mediated by coordination-enabling processes, and the moderating roles of several aspects of team tasks (i.e., interdependence, complexity) and the hierarchy (i.e., form) were not supported, with the exception that task ambiguity enhanced the positive effects of hierarchy. Given that our findings largely support dysfunctional views on hierarchy, future research is needed to understand when and why hierarchy may be more likely to live up to its purported functional benefits.