A New Perspective for Understanding School Managers’ Roles: The Impact of Principals’ Boundary Activities on the Effectiveness of School Management Teams
by Pascale Benoliel & Anit Somech - 2018
Background/Context: Increasingly, educational leadership research has stressed that leadership is not solely embedded in formal roles but often emerges from relationships between individuals. Senior management teams (SMTs) are an important expression of a formal management structure based on the principle of distributed leadership. Such structures may require a reconceptualization of school leadership and the role of the principal in such a way as to better meet new challenges and enable principals to manage SMTs more effectively. Accordingly, it is proposed that to improve effectiveness, principals engage in boundary activities, the principals’ internal activities directed toward the SMT aimed at dealing with internal team matters and the principals’ external activities directed toward external agents in the team's focal environment to acquire resources and protect the team.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The present study attempts to advance a theoretical model of principals’ internal and external activities toward their SMTs. This study’s purpose is twofold: First, the study tries to determine which of the internal and external activities principals engage in more frequently and less frequently and to what extent. Second, the study attempts to determine how these activities are related to the SMT effectiveness outcomes: in-role performance and innovation. Taking on a distributive perspective to school leadership, our goal is to extend our knowledge about the activities that might facilitate SMT effectiveness, by highlighting the principal boundary activities as fundamental.
Research Design: Quantitative study
Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected from two sources to minimize problems associated with same source bias: 92 SMTs and their principals from 92 public schools in Israel. Principals evaluated the SMTs’ effectiveness through validated surveys of team in-role performance and team innovation, and SMT members evaluated the internal and external activities of the principal.
Findings/Results: ANOVA analyses indicate significant mean differences between the principal’s internal and external activities. Results from Structural Equation Model indicate that internal activities were related to SMT performance, whereas external activities were related to SMT innovation.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Principals who manage both the internal SMT dynamic by promoting SMT identity and building team trust, while also promoting a common mission, serve the role of coordinator between SMT members and constituencies external to the SMT, enhancing SMT effectiveness. It may be, then, that studying new models of school leadership and management, including the relationship of the principal and the SMT, may deepen our understanding of the increasingly complex role of principals today.
Increasingly, educational leadership research has stressed that leadership is not solely embedded in formal roles but often emerges from relationships between individuals (Hallinger & Lu, 2014). Distributed leadership, which is based on the premise that leadership should be shared throughout an organization, carries the potential for achieving outcomes unattainable by the traditional rational-bureaucratic school organizational structure (Benoliel & Somech, 2010; Portin & Knapp, 2013). The distributed leadership perspective implies a social distribution of leadership in which the leadership function is stretched over the work of a number of individuals and the task is accomplished through a network of relationships and interactions among the entire staff of the school (Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001, 2004(. This movement toward a more distributive leadership paradigm has taken place alongside the creation of new structures carrying differentiated leadership responsibilities. Senior management teams (SMTs) which consist of the most senior teaching staff with principals at the top of the hierarchy are an important expression of a formal management structure based on the principle of distributed leadership (Bush & Glover, 2012). Thus, distributed leadership embraces the shift in the role of principals and the relationship of principals toward their SMTs (Hallinger & Lu, 2014; Jarl, Fredriksson, & Persson, 2012).
Such structures may require a reconceptualization of school leadership and the role of the principal in such a way as to better meet new challenges and enable principals to manage SMTs more effectively (Benoliel, 2017; Leithwood et al., 2007; Penlington, Kington, & Day, 2008). Research indicates that the leaders essential mission is to create team boundaries that are sufficiently permeable to allow resources and information in, yet sufficiently impermeable to preserve among team members a sense of awareness of belonging to the team and a sense of accountability on the part of team members for the teams effectiveness (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003; Somech & Khalaili, 2014). Accordingly, it is proposed that to improve effectiveness, principals engage in boundary activities, focusing alternatively on internal and external issues relative to the team. This includes both the principals internal activities directed toward the SMT aimed at dealing with internal team matters and coordinating the efforts of senior members, and the principals external activities directed toward external agents in the team's focal environment to acquire resources and protect the team (Wallace, 2002; Zaccaro, Heine & schuffler, 2009).
Despite the increasing emergence of SMTs due to the prevalence of a more distributed model of school leadership, few studies have examined the role of principals activities in enhancing SMT effectiveness (Bush & Glover, 2012). Yet, the model of the single school leader is gradually being eroded as the demands upon one individual become too great and more attention is paid to distributed forms of leadership through teams (Grubb & Flessa, 2009; Harris, 2009). The present study attempts to advance a theoretical model of principals internal and external activities toward their SMTs. We suggest that both principals internal and external activities facilitate SMT effectiveness. This studys purpose is twofold: First, the study tries to determine which of the internal and external activities principals use more frequently and less frequently and to what extent. Second, the study attempts to determine how these activities are related to the SMT effectiveness outcomes: in-role performance and innovation (Figure 1). Taking on a distributive perspective to school leadership, our goal is to extend our knowledge about the activities that might facilitate SMT effectiveness, by highlighting the principal boundary activities as fundamental.
Figure 1. Study model
It is therefore hoped that the present study may make important theoretical contributions. The majority of research on SMT leadership has focused on intra-team dynamics and the activities of SMT members (Cardno, 2010; Wallace, 2002). Few studies have focused on the importance of the principals boundary activities of managing the SMTs external environment in enhancing SMT effectiveness. Moreover, studies have tended to classify boundary activities as a separate, distinct function (Barnett & McCormick, 2012). However, several scholars have posited convincing arguments for why internal leadership activities involving direction setting and team operations management might also be classified as boundary management activities (Yan & Louis, 1999). According to these scholars, these activities can help differentiate the team from its environment by establishing the teams own workspace, work time, task structure, rules of operation, and goals, thereby sharpening the team boundary from within (Choi, 2002; Marrone, 2010). Therefore, although principals engage in various activities that support team effectiveness and innovation, we have limited our investigation to those activities that fall within the domain of boundary management because these are leadership activities related to both internal and external issues relative to the SMT. Finally, more research is needed to deepen our understanding of the differential relationship between a principals internal and external activities and SMT outcomes (Drach-Zahavy & Somech, 2002).
With this research, we hope to contribute to the existing body of research on educational leadership by addressing the dual role of the principal in managing both the internal and external SMT work environment. Taking a more holistic perspective, this study intends to emphasize the role of principals as boundary spanners in establishing and maintaining both intra-team and inter-organizational relationships to ensure proper SMT functioning. By integrating research from both educational and non-educational literature, this study may provide a broader perspective on school leadership functions, emphasizing the role of principals in leading their SMTs, and deepening our understanding of the boundary activities that promote SMT effectiveness.
Research has shown that in carrying out their leadership role, principals have increasingly come to rely for support on SMTs (Heck & Hallinger, 2009; Wallace, 2002). An SMT typically consists of senior personnel such as the principal, deputy principals, and other key school officials (Wallace, 2002). The SMT is responsible for shaping the direction of school policy, as well as planning, controlling, and monitoring the work of other school staff (Camburn, Rowan, & Taylor 2003; Leithwood et al., 2007; Theoharis & OToole, 2011). Specifically, members duties consist of fostering and setting a collective school vision, as well as motivating and stimulating staff members (Hoy & Tarter, 1997). The importance of distributed leadership through SMTs has been recognized in educational research in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere (Abbott & Bush, 2013; Barnett & McCormick, 2012; Bush & Glover, 2012; Cardno, 2009; Wallace, 2002). Grounded on aspects of Distributed Cognition (Hutchins, 1995) and Activity Theory (Leontiev, 1981), a distributed perspective involves two aspects: the leader-plus aspect and the practice aspect (Spillane et al., 2001). The leader-plus aspect recognizes that in addition to the principal, school leadership can involve multiple individuals, both formally and informally designated (Camburn, Rowan, & Taylor, 2003). The practice aspect moves the focus from aggregating the actions of individual leaders to the interaction between leaders, followers, and their situation.
Spillane, Halverson, and Diamond (2001) have indicated that school leadership activities include both macro functions (e.g., developing an instructional vision, improving test scores, resource management, promoting teacher professional development, establishing a school climate) and micro tasks (day-to-day work) that enable principals to perform their macro functions. Research indicated that by shifting responsibility for the day-to-day managerial concerns to management team members, the principal was able to concentrate on leading change in instruction (Spillane, Halverson, Walker, Diamond, & Jita, 2001). More recently, research has acknowledged that selecting more distributive strategies for managing issues through SMTs may facilitate the development of effective professional learning communities (PLC) (DuFour & Dufour, 2015; Harris, 2013).
In PLCs, teachers deliberate collaboratively on how to solve pedagogical problems (DuFour & Marzano, 2011). A PLC is first and foremost aimed at improving teacher quality and meeting the educational needs of students through systematically examining day-to-day teaching practices (DuFour & Dufour, 2015). A data teama specific form of PLCis formed to solve educational problems in a structured way by using data (Honig & Venkateswaran, 2012). In contrast, SMT members primarily hold supervisory and management responsibilities (Bamburg & Andrews, 1990). The SMT members are involved with administrative issues and participate in decision management (Howard, 2007; Spillane & Healey, 2010). Yet, the presence of those additional collaborative structures evinces a more distributive perspective toward school leadership. Therefore, the movement toward a distributive perspective may require the principal to assume the role of facilitating SMT effectiveness.
Much past work has treated the team as a closed system. Such research has emphasized the leadership activities of directing members as their attention is increasingly drawn to the task of coordinating interdependent work (Cohen & Bailey, 1997 Wageman, 2001). Only in the 1990s did perspectives on team functioning begin to strongly emphasize an external perspective (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Faraj & Yan, 2009). Recently, Edmondson (2012) advocated a shift from thinking about teams to thinking about the process through which teams are constructed, which she labeled teaming, and proposed several team leader activities, focusing on internal team processes aimed at cultivating psychological safety. The activities involved inviting participation, highlighting failures as learning opportunities, and holding people accountable for mistakes. Yet, although those studies have explored how team members communicate with external stakeholders to promote proper team functioning, they do not address the external boundary activity engaged in by the leader.
However, more recently, emphasis has been placed on the importance of maintaining a balance between both internal and external activities to achieve better team performance, recognizing that both activities are equally important for promoting effectiveness (Somech & Khalaili, 2014; Yukl, 2012). More specifically, scholars have acknowledged that successful team leaders make use of a basic repertoire of boundary activities, which can be split into two main categories: internal activities aimed at tightening the teams boundaries and external activities aimed at loosening them (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003). Accordingly, the approach in this study was based on the notion put forth by Druskat and Wheeler (2003) that to improve effectiveness, the best team leaders engage in boundary activities, focusing alternatively on internal and external issues relative to the team.
A TEAM BOUNDARY PERSPECTIVE TO SMT LEADERSHIP: INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL ACTIVITIES
Internal activities are activities directed inward toward the team involving various intra-team processes occurring within the team boundary (Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004). Relating activity involves such behaviors as building team trust and caring for team members. By focusing on their teams' best interests as well as demonstrating to their team that they are fair and reliable, principals build trust. Research has shown that teachers who feel trust in their interactions within the team are more likely to disclose more accurate and complete data about problems (Cosner, 2009; Zaccaro, Heinen, & Shuffler, 2009).
Indeed, a positive and productive psychological climate in which to work as well as healthy group norms that support a positive environment have been shown to be important for team effectiveness (Edmondson, 2003). Research consistently finds that team leaders play an important role in promoting psychological safety, defined as a climate in which people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings by explicitly inviting input and feedback, especially while modeling openness and fallibility themselves (Edmondson, 2003; Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006). For example, Edmondson (2012) showed that trust and psychological safety contribute to team members ability to share their perspectives in situations where there is a difference of opinion or conflict. A feeling of psychological safety enables members to give important feedback and engage in difficult conversations (Edmondson, 2012). Similarly, educational research has revealed that principals play and occupy a critical role for creating and promoting a culture of teamwork in the SMT (Walker & Stott, 1993; Wallace, 2002).
Scouting activities are those activities geared toward gathering information about the needs and problems of the team and its members. An internally focused principal will diagnose SMT member behavior and investigate problems systematically. Principals initiate communication with SMT members in an effort to acquire information about internal events, experiences, and needs in order to identify and clarify team needs that might be useful to the decision-making process (Zaccaro & Horn, 2003).
Persuading activities are activities directed toward influencing the SMT members to understand the implications of their decisions and actions, enabling the principal to influence SMT members to set priorities that support school goals. A major function of team leaders is to communicate solution plans to team members so that they understand the actions required for solution implementation, how these actions need to be coordinated, and what constitutes task or mission accomplishment (Zaccaro et al., 2009). Wallace (2002) has suggested that clearly defining the roles and objectives of the SMT, ensuring the competency, credibility, and commitment of SMT members, is important to SMT effectiveness.
Empowering activities involve delegating authority, exercising flexibility regarding team decisions, and coaching. It has been acknowledged that through coaching, team leaders can extract knowledge from individuals, thus overcoming the usual tendency of teams to rely on shared knowledge (Edmondson, 1999, 2003). Moreover, empowerment of SMT members through mutual commitment and support can enable the team to achieve more as a team than as a mere collection of individuals (Lee, Zhang, & Song, 2012). A study by Wallace (2001) reported that while the principal encouraged members to make an equal contribution and they were willing to do so, the interaction among SMT members was harmonious and the level of synergy was potentially greater.
External activities are directed toward managing the teams environment to acquire resources and knowledge useful to the team and to monitor the external environments of the team (Choi, 2002). However, research has indicated that the distribution of leadership may extend across the school boundary, underlining the important role of principals in spanning boundaries and maintaining positive relationships with external parties in the school environment (Heck & Hallinger, 2009; Hoy & Miskel, 2005). Therefore, principals may cross the boundaries between stakeholders within the school, but also linking the SMT with external constituencies outside the school boundaries such as parents, community members, school district personnel, and government agencies (Knapp, Feldman, & Yeh, 2013; Misty & DiPaola, 2011).
Relating activities. The external activity of relating involves developing political and social awareness (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003). This externally relating activity refers to the leader including the needs, concerns, and decision-making criteria of external stakeholders, such as parents, community members, district personnel, and other external entities that affect school in the SMT decision-making process (Misty & DiPaola, 2011). Principals must continually move back and forth across the SMT boundaries to build relationships. This might involve not only the reduction of SMT teachers isolation from staff colleagues (Wallace, 2002) but also activities such as knowing community power structures and maintaining appropriate relations with parents by providing a bridge between the school external environment and the SMT (Misty & DiPaola, 2011). This continuing interchange helps to sustain the team and provide it with important resources (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000). For example, principals may reduce external threats by exchanging some degree of control, including control of information, for some commitment of continued support from the community (DiPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2005).
Scouting activities. External scouting activity involves the search for information from external stakeholders in order to acquire knowledge that may be useful to the SMT decision-making process. The search of information might originate from inside the school, from formal or informal interactions with teachers and staff, or outside the school, through interactions with external actors in order to discern the needs of the external environment. External persuading activity involves obtaining external support for the SMT. This involves presenting the team to other teams and stakeholders in a way that safeguards the interests of the team and maximizes the support available to the team (Druskat & Dahal, 2005). A study by Wallace (2002) has recognized the importance regarding the acceptance of the SMT role which might be achieved by the establishment of links with other teams in the school that would win their respect, enabling the SMT to lead.
Based on the above typology, the first goal of this study is to present a picture of the extent to and frequency at which principals engage in internal and external activities, and then to relate those activities to the SMT effectiveness outcomes of in-role performance and innovation.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL ACTIVITIES AND SMT EFFECTIVENESS
The second goal of this study is to investigate the relationship of principals internal and external activities to SMT effectiveness. For SMT effectiveness we employ SMT in-role performance and SMT innovation because these outcomes tap into the different dimensions of SMT effectiveness and represent the tension that teams endure when trying to engage in out-of-the-box innovative thinking while performing routine, in-role duties (Lovelace, Shapiro, & Weingart, 2001). We propose that both internal and external activities enhance SMT effectiveness but that each activity may have some advantages over the other, depending upon the preferred outcome (Kozlowski, Watola, & Nowakowski, 2009; Spillane et al., 2004; Zaccaro et al., 2009). Specifically, we suggest that while a principal's internal activities provide greater mission clarity to the SMT, enhancing SMT in-role performance, principals external activities enhance the exchange of information with external stakeholders, which may foster SMT innovation. Both aspects are critical to the teams decision-making process as it relates to SMT effectiveness.
SMT In-role Performance
SMT in-role performance refers to the extent to which a team accomplishes its goal of promoting and enhancing academic achievement and generating the desired results with respect to curriculum, fund-raising, and other issues (Muijs & Harris, 2007). The importance of positive interpersonal relationships within the team has been shown to be important to ensuring continuity and promoting the SMT goals and mission (Wallace, 2002). Cohesiveness among team members promotes commitment and facilitates the informal and continuous flow of knowledge within the team that is necessary to the team’s in-role performance (Carpenter, 2002). For example, studies have emphasized the importance of team trust and safety for enhancing team performance (Buljac-Samardžić, van Woerkom, & Paauwe, 2012; Edmondson, 2012). Similarly, Earley and Weindling (2004) have acknowledged that mutual trust and support is important to SMT performance. Thus, unlike external activities, internal activities may help the principal to acquire access to key information regarding SMT needs, and use this information to intervene where and when required. Therefore, with an internal focus of building team trust and caring for team members needs, principals are better able to establish both respect and personal regard among SMT members when they acknowledge the vulnerabilities of SMT members and actively listen to their concerns. This may enable the principal to play a visible role in establishing and improving the internal SMT process, helping SMT members to fulfill their roles effectively.
Moreover, research indicates that for teams to be effective, the roles of SMT members should be unambiguous, well understood, and accepted by all team members, so that the team can work collaboratively, keeping the strategic picture firmly in mind (Muijs & Harris, 2007). Also, research has emphasized that shared purpose exists when team members have similar understandings of team goals and make an effort to remain aligned with the common objectives (Marrone, Tesluk, & Carson, 2007). Therefore, the establishment and communication of clear processes and parameters for collective decision making through internal activities, with the goal of discouraging potential and unproductive conflicts that might arise in the absence of such proactive shared understandings, encourage SMT members to resolve unnecessary ambiguity and uncertainty (Musselwhite, 2007).
This shared understanding, which converts school objectives into interim goals, and serves as a guide for senior teachers, may enhance SMT in-role performance. However, although external activities help the principal to bring external resources and perspectives to bear in, encouraging divergent thinking among team members, which is important to SMT effectiveness, research indicates that the presence of a variety of ideas and beliefs may slow down decision making (Li, Liu, & Xiaoyu, 2013). Therefore, the principals internal activities aimed at enhancing mission clarity and promoting shared understanding and supportive action by sharpening the SMT boundary from within are more likely than external activities to help senior members to achieve superior SMT in-role performance.
Hypothesis 1. There is a stronger positive relationship between internal activities (relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering) and SMT in-role performance than between external activities (relating, scouting, and persuading) and SMT in-role performance.
Innovation has been highlighted as a core requirement for schools to maintain or enhance their effectiveness among rapidly changing and challenging environments (Ng, 2013). Team innovation is defined as "the intentional introduction and application within a team, of ideas, processes, products or procedures new to the team, designed to significantly benefit the individual, the team, the organization, or the wider society" (West & Wallace, 1991, p. 303). Although the SMT primary goals relate to school leadership, the SMT is also expected to share and plan for the new pedagogic learning as well as to develop and implement new visions and perspectives on teaching and learning at the school level (Shulman & Shulman, 2004). Recent studies have proposed that innovation involves two stages: the creativity stagenamely, the generation of new ideasand the implementation stagenamely, the successful implementation of creative ideas (George, 2007; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2013). Accordingly, innovation depends on a team not only having a good idea but also developing that idea beyond its initial state (Choi & Chang, 2009).
For a team to be able to turn new ideas and individually held knowledge into innovative procedures, principals activities must enhance collaboration and information sharing across teams. These external exchanges are important factors in the creation of knowledge and innovation (Eppler & Mengis, 2004; Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2008). Therefore, through external activities involving building, maintaining, and interacting with other functional disciplines and stakeholders, the principal may acquire new knowledge and new perspectives for the SMT. Such activities may facilitate the flow of new and outside perspectives on educational reforms through the SMT which may, in turn, spark the development of new ideas, contributing to innovation (Fullan, 2001). Also, external activities aimed at acquiring resources and obtaining external support for the SMT may enable the principal to provide SMT team members with a work environment that includes learning opportunities that can enhance team creativity and innovation (Clement & Vandenbergue, 2001).
Thus, although internal activities promote a shared purpose and shared understandings necessary to SMT effectiveness, principals external activities are more likely to help SMT members relate to members of other teams, increasing the divergence of opinions necessary for innovation. Similarly, principals external activities are more likely than principals internal activities, aimed at tightening the team boundary, to increase the information flow between the team and its external stakeholders (Drach-Zahavy & Somech, 2002). Because internal activities help maintain group identity, the team may be isolated from its environment, weakening the ongoing exchange of resources crucial to innovation.
Furthermore, innovation is more likely to occur in contexts (whether school or SMT) in which there is support for innovation. When senior team members are provided with appropriate resources (i.e., funds, materials, and facilities), they are more likely to perceive that they are in control and that they are able to improve a situation that is in need of change (Krause, 2004). From this perspective, external activities may help the principal to call upon the necessary ingredients for innovation, including new perspectives, resources and support (Benoliel & Somech, 2014; Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). Also, external activities help principals to provide SMT members with the discretion to act on their innovative ideas by creating an environment that complements the adaptation and implementation of innovation. Consequently, principals external activities are more likely than principals internal activities to create a teamwork environment in which SMT members feel truly encouraged to attempt new and different approaches to their work. This is likely to boost SMT members motivation and enhance their sense of responsibility to contribute to change, which can be expected to result in higher levels of innovative work behaviors among SMT members. Hence,
Hypothesis 2. There is a stronger positive relationship between external activities (relating, scouting, and persuading) and SMT innovation than between internal activities (relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering) and SMT innovation.
PARTICIPANTS AND PROCEDURE
The Israeli educational system is highly centralized in structure and procedure. In Israeli schools, an SMT typically comprises a principal, deputy principal, and other key administrators such as grade-level coordinators, educational advisors, and school counselors. In addition to their curriculum responsibility, such as coordinating a subject and how it is taught, SMT members hold supervisory responsibility. Their duties may involve such diverse areas as discussing and setting educational policies, curricular scheduling and coordination, student management, assessment and behavioral interventions, staffing decisions and assignments, and budgetary allocations. The team can also work at coordinating communication with parents. Therefore, although the nomenclature may vary across countries, the major task of an SMT in Israel is administrative and instructional in nature, similar to the common descriptions of leadership team duties in the United States and European countries (Bennett, Woods, Wise, & Newton, 2007; Wallace, 2002).
Data collection was performed in several steps. After the research project was approved by the Ministry of Education, schools were randomly chosen from a list provided by the Ministry of Education. For each school, we first contacted the principal, explained the purpose of the study, stated that anonymity was guaranteed, and emphasized the importance of candid answers. After a principal committed to have his or her school participate, the questionnaires were distributed.
Data were collected from two sources, to minimize problems associated with same source bias (Avolio, Yammarino, & Bass, 1991), for a total of 92 SMTs and their principals from 92 public schools in Israel. Overall, 295 SMT members and 92 principals were included in the sample. Sixty percent of the schools studied were elementary schools, 11% were middle schools, and 29% were high schools. School size was based on the number of enrolled students and teachers, with an average of 617 enrolled students per school and an average of 60 teachers per school. The average SMT consisted of 21% grade-level coordinators, 20% school counselors, 17% deputy heads, 14% educational advisors, 11% disciplinary coordinators, and 10% coordinators. Team size ranged from 3 to 10, with an average of 6.
As for the principals, 79% were women. Their average age was 49.28 years (SD = 6.67), and their average tenure as principal at the present school was 9.28 years (SD = 7.74). Of the SMT members, 295 team members agreed to participate out of 525 whom were asked, with an average of 34 participants per team for each school, a response rate of 60% (SD=22.3). Ninety one percent of the participants were women; their average age was 43.93 years (SD = 9.05), and they had an average of 10.33 (SD = 7.00) years seniority in the current school.
Principals evaluated the SMT effectiveness through a survey of team in-role performance and team innovation. SMT members evaluated the internal and external activities of the principal. Only SMT members and principals who had worked in the school more than one year were included in the study, to ensure that all respondents had sufficient time to develop perceptions and attitudes about their schools and their co-workers.
Internal and external activities of the principal. SMT members answered the Team Leader Questionnaire (TLQ) adapted from Druskat and Wheelers (2003) typology to accommodate the school context. Questions included the following: External activities: relating (4 items) (e.g., How well does the principal understand school politics?) (a=.83); scouting (6 items) (e.g., How often does the principal seek information and advice from peers in school for the SMT benefice?) (a=.89); persuading (7 items) (e.g., How often does the principal act as a representative of the SMT with parts of the school environment (e.g.; parents, educational ministry, district)? (a=.92). Internal activities: relating (4 items) (e.g., How often does the principal show SMT members that he or she cares about them?) (a=.84); scouting (4 items) (e.g., How often does the principal gather information about the needs and problems of the team?) (a=.89); persuading (4 items) (e.g., How often does the principal convey information to the team about how their work helps the school to achieve its goals?) (a=.84); empowering (2 items) (e.g., How often does the principal delegate responsibility and decision-making authority?) (a=.84). SMT members responded on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from never (1) to always (5). (Please see Appendix A.) Higher mean values reflect higher levels of the corresponding activities of the principal.
SMT in-role performance. Principals used a 5-item scale adapted from Settoon, Bennett, and Liden (1996), to measure in-role performance with respect to an overall evaluation of the teams job performance, role fulfilment within the team organization, and professional competence. A sample item is: The team adequately fulfils assigned duties (a=.78).
SMT innovation. Principals used a 5-item scale adapted from West and Wallace (1991) reflecting the extent of team-initiated changes in the previous six months with respect to work objectives, working methods, teaching methods, and development of skills. A sample item is: The team developed innovative ways of accomplishing work targets/objectives (a= .87).
In the research hypotheses, the team is identified as the unit of analysis, so SMT innovation and SMT in-role performance were measured at the team level by surveying the principal. The principals internal and external activities were represented by an aggregate of the responses of the SMT members to the team level of analysis.
Justification for aggregation is provided by theoretical as well as empirical arguments (Rousseau, 1985). Theoretically, Rousseau (1985) advocated the use of composition theories specifying the functional similarities of constructs at different levels. SMT members are expected to share the same perceptions as school members of their environment; perceptions of work environment, teams task characteristics, or pattern of behaviors. Members frequency of interaction and shared tasks, as well as a clear delineation of team boundaries, should allow team members to create shared norms (Jehn, Chadwick, & Sherry, 1997). Therefore, it is critical to demonstrate high within-team agreement to justify using the team average as an indicator of team-level variables (rwg: James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1993). Thus, justification for aggregation was measured by: Rwg Within-Group Interrater Reliability (Dunlap, Burke, & Smith-Crowe, 2003; James et al., 1993) and Intraclass Correlation Coefficient ICC. A value of .70 or greater is suggested as a good amount of within-group interrater agreement (rwg: James et al., 1993). In the current study, all scales exceeded this level. Mean values were .93, .89, .91, .86, 94, .91, and .91, respectively, for the internal activities of relating, scouting, persuading, empowering, and the external activities of relating, scouting, and persuading. Values are shown in Table 1 in the rWG column.
Moreover, in team-level analyses, the aggregation of individual responses into a team score treats team members as judges rating their environment. Therefore, they must also be shown to agree before one can claim that a construct is a team-level variable (Bliese & Halverson, 1996). In this study, we estimate within-team agreement by two measures: Intraclass correlation 1 ICC(1), and Intraclass Correlation Coefficient 2 ICC(2).
ICC(1) provides an estimate of the portion of total variance in a measure accounted for by membership in a group that is an estimate of the reliability of an individual respondents rating and answers the following question: To what extent can variability in the measure be predicted from organization membership? As indicated by Bliese (2000), ICC(1) generally ranges from 0 to .50 with a median of .12. ICC(2) estimates the reliability of mean differences across organizations (between-group variance) and answers this question: How reliable are the organization means within a sample? (Bliese & Halverson, 1996; Bliese, 2000). ICC(2) is a measure of both interrater reliability and interrater agreement (LeBreton & Senter, 2008). There are, however, no definite guidelines for determining acceptable values for ICC(2).
In the present study, values were ICC(1) =.36; ICC(2) =.64 for internal relating; ICC(1) =.27; ICC(2) =.54 for internal scouting; ICC(1) = .26; ICC(2) = .53 for internal persuading; ICC(1) = .26; ICC(2) =.52 for empowering; ICC(1) =.21; ICC(2) =.46 for external relating; ICC(1) =.30; ICC(2) =.57 for external scouting; ICC(1) =.25; ICC(2) =.51 for external persuading. As indicated by Bliese (2000), ICC(1) generally ranges from 0 to 0.50 with a median of 0.12. All scales slightly exceeded the median score and support the use of the average scores as organizational measures. Therefore, since all rWG values reached the conventionally acceptable level (.70); the ICC(1) values are above the median value of .12 reported in the organizational literature (James, 1982), and the ICC(2) scores are acceptable, we aggregated the individual-level measures to the team level.
We use Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to test our hypotheses (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1996). Because SEM is primarily based on model fitting and selection, we use the fit indices of the chi-square statistic divided by the degrees of freedom (c2 /df), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Tucker-Lewis coefficient (TLI), Incremental Fit Index (IFI), and Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) to assess the fit of the research model (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1996; Kline, 1998) and path estimates to describe how well the models estimate the input data set (Bollen, 1989).
The descriptive statistics, frequencies, and inter-correlations among the study variables are presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelation Matrix for Study Variables N= 92
DESCRIPTION OF THE PRINCIPALS ACTIVITIES: DISTRIBUTION AND FREQUENCY
We first tried to shed light on principals activities by examining and analyzing the mean frequency and distribution of the principals internal and external activities. In both subscales of internal and external activities, the means were above 4 (often shown level), indicating high occurrence for all activities. Relating occurs the most among both types of activities. The external and internal activities of relating (see Table 1 and Figure 2) were the activities most frequently engaged in (85.9% and 79.3%, respectively) by principals with the highest means, with an average mean of 4.48 (SD=.49) for internal relating, and an average mean of 4.54 (SD=.41) for external relating. Followed by external and internal activities of persuading (64.1% and 68.5%, respectively) with an average mean of 4.20 (SD=.46) for internal persuading and an average mean of 4.16 (SD=.52) for external persuading. Internal and external (62% and 51.1% respectively) scouting activities were prevalent among the majority of principals with an average mean of 3.95 (SD=.55) for internal scouting and an average mean of 4.04 (SD=.51) for external scouting. According to SMT members perceptions, principals engaged less frequently in empowering activities (45.7%). (See Table 1 and Figure 2.)
Figure 2. Internal and external activities means
In order to determine if principals accorded differential use to one or more of the internal or external activities, we first used analyses of variance ANOVA with repeated measures taking external variables of relating, scouting, and persuading and the internal variables of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering as repeated factors (Table 2). Results indicated that differences between each of the repeated factors of the internal and external activities of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering was significant (F (6, 546) = 35.56, p<.001). Partial eta-squared value was (h2 =.28). In line with Kirk (1996), partial eta-squared values (h2) are provided as indicators of effects and the size of these effects. Kirk (1996) has also recommended thumbs rules for estimating degree of effect: small, medium, and large degree of effect for an F-statistic has partial eta-squared values of .01, .06, and .14, respectively. This reveals a large effect size (Kirk, 1996).
Fishers LSD tests were used to follow up this effect. Post-hoc LSD comparisons reveals that the biggest mean differences are found between external relating (M=4.54; SD=.41) and internal scouting (M=3.95, SD=.55). However, no mean differences were found between external relating and internal scouting (p>0.05). Also, no mean differences were found between external scouting and internal scouting (p>0.05) or between external persuading and internal persuading, which was not significant (p>0.05).
Second, we performed further analyses of variance ANOVA with repeated measures, to assess if there were significant mean differences among the internal activities of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering, and then to assess if there were significant mean differences among the external activities of relating, scouting, and persuading.
ANOVA analysis with repeated measures taking the internal variables of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering as repeated factors indicated significant differences between each of the internal activities except between internal scouting and empowering (F (3, 273) = 31.07, p<.001). Partial eta-squared value was (h2 =.25). This reveals a large effect size (Kirk, 1996) indicating large differences in SMT members perceptions of internal activities displayed by the principal. Fishers LSD tests were used to follow up this effect. Post-hoc LSD comparisons (p<.05) (Table 2) indicated that the internal activity of relating emerged as the most demonstrated activity by principals as compared to the internal activities of scouting, persuading, and empowering activities. With a standard deviation of .49, the relating activity variable is characterized by a nonnormal distribution tending toward higher levels (see Table 2 and Figure 3). This reveals the high principals tendency to build SMT trust and to care for SMT members by demonstrating to the SMT that they are fair and reliable. The internal activity of persuading, the second highest mean with an average mean of 4.20 (SD =.46) and the lowest dispersion as compared to the other internal activities, indicates the high tendency of principals to work to influence SMT members to set priorities that support organizational goals across the sample. As for empowering activity, descriptive statistics reveal that this activity presents a high mean with an average mean of 4.19 (SD =.55), indicating the high tendency of principals to delegate authority, exercise flexibility regarding team decisions, and coach (See Figure 3). Finally, although the mean score for the principal internal activity of scouting, which involved scouting for SMT and SMT member problems, weaknesses, and interests, appeared to be the lowest mean, with an average mean of 3.95 as compared with other activities; it is worth noting that the activity dispersion for internal scouting also had the highest dispersion (SD= .55) (see Table 1 and Figure 3). These results are in line a with recent study acknowledging that principals played a critical role, fulfilling the role of SMT leader and the activities of direction setting, managing team operations, coaching, and empowering their team (Barnett & McCormick, 2012).
Figure 3. Internal activities of the principal
ANOVA analysis with repeated measures taking the external variables of relating, scouting, and persuading as repeated factors indicated significant differences between each of the external activities (F (2, 182) = 64.24, p <.001). Partial eta-squared value was (h2 =.41). This reveals a large effect size (Kirk, 1996), indicating large differences in SMT members perceptions of the external activities displayed by the principal. Fishers LSD tests were used to follow up this effect. Post hoc LSD comparisons (p<.05) (Table 2) showed that SMT members rated their principal significantly higher in the external activity of relating (M= 4.54; SD=.41) as compared to the external activities of scouting (M= 4.04; SD= .51) and persuading activities (M= 4.16; SD =.52). Furthermore, with a standard deviation of .41, the relating activity variable is characterized by a nonnormal distribution tending toward higher levels (See Table 1 and Figure 4). All of this indicates the high general principals tendency to build and maintain relationships with other teams and constituencies external to the SMT across schools.
As shown in Table 1, the second activity that presents the highest mean score is the external activity of persuading, with an average mean of 4.16 (SD= .52), indicating the high tendency of principals to advocate for SMTs interests. Regarding the external activity of scouting, descriptive statistics (See Table 1 and Figure 4) reveal that the mean of 4.04 (SD= .51) is equal to the midpoint scale (4.04). This indicates a normal distribution for the dimension indicating that in general, across schools, principals are perceived by their SMT members as displaying the activity of scouting and searching the environment in order to acquire and secure resources. This is in line with previous research acknowledging the tendency of principals toward activities aimed at developing school-level relationships (DiPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2002).
Figure 4. External activities of the principal
In order to assess if there were significant differences in the proposed variables among elementary, middle, and high schools, we used analyses of variance MANOVA. The results indicated no significant differences between the elementary, middle, and high schools for each of the outcomes variables (internal and external activities and team in-role performance and team innovation) (p>.05). Further correlations analysis also indicated no significant correlations (p>.05) between school size and the principal tenure in the present school and our proposed outcomes variables.
The SEM in Figure 1 summarizes the hypothesized model. The model presented a very good fit to the data (c2/df= 1.19; CFI= .99, TLI= .98, IFI= .99, RMSEA= 0.046). Findings (see Figure 5) indicate that the principals external activities explained 11% of the variance in SMT innovation (β =.33, p<.05; H2) and the principals’ internal activities explained 10% of the variance in SMT in-role performance (β =.32, p<.01; H1).
Figure 5. SEM results for the proposed model
In order to identify which of the indicators of the internal and external activity variables were the best predictors of each of the outcomes of SMT effectiveness, namely SMT in-role performance and SMT innovation, two stepwise multiple regression analyses were conducted. In the first regression, SMT in-role performance was used as the dependent variable. The internal activity variables of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering were used as predictors. In the second regression, SMT innovation was used as the dependent variable. The external activity variables of relating, scouting, and persuading were used as predictors. Tables 3 and 4 identify the significant predictors from each regression model. Regression analysis (see Table 3) showed that 9% of the variance in SMT in-role performance was explained by only one predictor, internal relating (B=.32, p< .01). Regression analysis (see Table 4) showed that 5% of the variance in SMT innovation was explained by only one predictor, external relating (B= .35, p< .05).
Table 3. Regression Results of Internal Activities of Relating, Scouting, Persuading and Empowering on In-role Performance
Table 4. Regression Results of External Activities of Relating, Scouting, Persuading on Innovation
Schools have come to recognize the SMT as an important form of distributive leadership practice. Therefore, the increasing importance of SMTs in schools may imply new perspectives on the principals role and function (Gronn, 2003; Harris, 2008). The present study was geared toward examining the activities of principals in connection with managing their SMTs. We set out to examine a set of internal and external activities to determine the frequency of these activities and analyze the relationship of these activities to the SMT outcomes of in-role performance and innovation. These activities include the internal and external activities of relating, scouting, persuading, and empowering. By taking a distributive perspective to school management, this study acknowledges a shift to team-centered school leadership and offers a number of important insights with regard to the interaction of principals with their SMTs.
The results related to the dispersion and frequency of the proposed set of activities are congruent with the recent research strengthening collaboration among team members and among staff showing that the principals relating activity is the activity with the highest mean in both internal and external activities (Day et al., 2006; Goldring, Huff, May, & Camburn, 2008). From this, we may conclude that principals focus much of their time and energy on building team trust and caring for SMT members, as well as building and maintaining important relationships with external stakeholders in the SMT environment. Furthermore, principals also tended to engage often in persuading activities, namely to share information with the SMT about important things going on in the school, informing the SMT how their work helps the school to achieve its goals, and influencing SMT members to set priorities that support school goals. Persuading is particularly important for directing the SMT toward goal accomplishment because it ensures that the team has aligned its purpose and goals with the broader organizations expectations (Dionne, Yammarino, Atwater, & Spangler, 2004; Posner, 2008). These results are in line with previous studies that have emphasized the importance principals placed on creating a shared team vision (Mujis & Harris, 2003). With a common frame of reference, SMT members may make sense of events, increasing information sharing within the team toward school goal accomplishment (Barnett & McCormick, 2012; Thomas, 2009).
The results also showed that engaging in each of the boundary focus activities was related to SMT effectiveness. More important, the results of the overall model confirmed not only that both an internal and external focus is advantageous to SMT effectiveness but also that principals tend to perform more frequently those specific activities that enhance SMT outcomes. Indeed, our results show that principals internal relating activities emerged as the best predictors of in-role performance whereas external relating activities were the best predictors of SMT innovation. Those findings may provide some grounds to believe that principals do perform in some measure those activities that are critical to SMT effectiveness. It seems that by orienting themselves both inward and outward with respect to the SMT, principals can maintain a fairly tight/loose boundary around the SMT so as to maintain a strong team identity without isolating the team, and at the same time foster regular information exchanges between the SMT and the environment in which it resides. Therefore, according to the proposed model, for principals, shifting attention and allegiance back and forth from the SMT to the SMT environment remains fundamental.
The results are in line with previous findings, indicating that teams need both professional relations and good internal working relations, as well as skills to work effectively with other teams in their schools (Chrispeels, Castillo, & Brown, 2000; Zaccaro et al., 2009). As boundary spanners, principals span the intra- and inter-organizational boundaries of their SMTs and are better able to both maintain relationships with respect to internal school activities and manage external dependencies (Goldring, 1996; Ng, 2013). These results are consistent with educational management literature that acknowledges a more distributive perspective regarding school leadership, whereby leadership is perceived as a social process emerging through the interactions of various teams and actors (Firestone & Fisler, 2002; Uhl-Bien, 2006).
More specifically, regarding SMT performance, perhaps an emphasis on forming trusting and cooperative relationships through the internal relating activity among SMT members helps in the development of a common team identity. Thus, by sharpening the team boundary and enhancing team cohesiveness, this team identity may enable senior members to work and solve problems together more effectively, achieving superior team performance (Faraj & Yan, 2009). Wallace (2002) emphasized the importance of interpersonal relationships within SMTs, including shared purpose and core values, to ensure good progression. It has been acknowledged that relational trust produced more coordinated, mutually supportive, and effective efforts by defining and establishing a shared mission for the team as well as clearly structuring the roles of team members within the team (Posner, 2008; Tschannen-Moran, 2003).
As for SMT innovation, the external relating activity of building and maintaining relationships with teams and stakeholders outside the SMT in order to acquire knowledge useful to the team decision-making process has been found to facilitate SMT innovation. It seems that the external relating activity may allow the principal to establish relationships that counter isolation and improve SMT innovation. Thus, principals can promote knowledge transfer within and between teams, allowing the introduction of alternative interpretations and perspectives necessary to enhance SMT innovation (Bezzina & Burford, 2010; Goldring, 1996). Accordingly, by creating opportunities that engage SMT members, school staff, and stakeholders in reciprocal and trusty relationships, principals may shape conditions that enhance information sharing both within and outside the school building (Schechter, 2015; Tschannen-Moran, 2004, 2009). This may be because, to promote team innovation, senior members must perform more interpersonal activities, so feeling safe in interactions becomes important to take the risk of openly proposing new ways of working.
Moreover, along with the obvious practical support required to implement new methods and programs, principals who provide sufficient resources of time, information, and knowledge to senior members may affect their perceptions regarding the adequacy of resources. This may in turn affect senior members psychologically, enhancing their willingness to cooperate in implementing their new ideas (Eisenbeiss, van Knippenberg, & Boerner, 2008). The results are in line with previous research indicating that new practices may be spread more quickly and gain acceptance more easily in schools with positive and effective professional relations with external stakeholders (e.g., school community) (Chrispeels, et al., 2000; Hargreaves, Halasz, & Pont , 2008). These results confirm the importance of external communication to successful innovation (Howell & Shea, 2006; Hülsheger, Anderson, & Salgado, 2009).
Our findings therefore show how both internal and external relating activities enhance SMT outcomes. This supports the view that the appropriate boundary activity of the principal plays an important role in improving SMT innovation and SMT in-role performance. Accordingly, principals that manage both the internal SMT dynamic by promoting SMT identity and building team trust, while also promoting a common mission by coordinating between SMT members and constituencies external to the SMT, may promote SMT effectiveness (Hogg, Van Knippenberg, & Rast, 2012(. Therefore, our findings may be interpreted to suggest that principals combine both internal and external relating activities to enhance SMT outcomes.
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE STUDIES
A major strength of the present study is that the likelihood of common method variance was low because data were collected from two sources to minimize problems associated with same source bias (Avolio, Yammarino, & Bass, 1991): SMT innovation and in-role performance (the principal) (Podsakoff & Organ, 1986), and the internal and external activities of the principal (SMT members). However, several limitations of the study warrant further attention in future research. First, the data were largely self-reported and retrospective, and therefore subject to bias. However, recent research suggests that self-reported data is not as limited as previously believed, and people often accurately appraise their social environment (Alper, Tjosvold, & Law, 1998). Also, Golden (1992) suggested that past facts or behaviors are likely to be recalled more accurately than accounts of past beliefs and intentions. Therefore, it is a reasonable assumption that the activities reported by the participants were representative of the actual situation.
Second, the cross-sectional design of the present study raises the issue of causality. The data cannot provide direct evidence of causal links between internal and external activities and team effectiveness. Conceivably, the causal order could be reversed. Nor can reciprocal causality be ruled out. Future research needs to use longitudinal designs to further validate the causal inferences suggested in the current study. Third, our size effects are rather small, so caution is needed in generalizing conclusions. The results need to be replicated and confirmed in a future study to avoid statistical issues. Finally, this study examined only selected outcome variables. Further research should use other sources for evaluating SMT effectiveness (Lovelace et al., 2001). The present study focused exclusively on the activities of the principal. However, previous research has acknowledged that SMT members do perform external activities to some extent (Gysbers, 2001; Paisley & Milsom, 2006). Therefore, future research may deepen our understanding of SMT effectiveness by investigating the impact of SMT members boundary activities, and the resulting impact on SMT effectiveness.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
The increased significance of SMTs indicates that a more distributed approach to school leadership is required in order to accommodate more challenging environments and the requirement for professional development (Butt & Gunter, 2005; Clarke, 2007; Harris, 2013). This may imply that studying new models of school leadership, including the activities toward the SMT, may deepen our understanding of the complex role of principals today. Evidence from the present findings suggests that by fostering and enhancing relationship building among SMT members but also between SMT and all the stakeholders external to the SMT, principals may enhance SMT in-role performance and innovation. Therefore, examining principal management practices designed to improve productive team processes may help encourage the exchange of resources and knowledge both among SMT members and between SMT and external stakeholders, promoting better SMT effectiveness. This is important because better performance and innovation in schools may foster teacher professionalism and build the capacity for innovation and positive change enhancing school effectiveness (Cosner, 2009; Tchannen-Moran, 2009).
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