The double-edged sword of leadership task transitions in emergency response multiteam systems

Margaret M. Luciano, Virgil Fenters, Semin Park, Amy L. Bartels, Scott I. Tannenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Multiteam systems (MTSs) operating in complex and dynamic environments often have a formal hierarchical leadership structure. However, it is unclear whether individuals should stick exclusively to performing their designated tasks within the hierarchical leadership structure, or if, instead, they should switch between different types of tasks to align efforts with changes in the environment. We refer to such task switching-an individual shifting to or from tasks designated for a particular leader position-as leadership task transitions. Our qualitative study of six MTSs responding to live-actor mass-casualty incidents revealed that leadership task transitions are a double-edged sword as they can simultaneously help manage the MTS-environment interface and harm MTS internal functioning. More specifically, leadership task transitions benefit the MTS by rapidly reallocating effort to alleviate the dominant environmental pressure at that time. However, they also harm the MTS by disrupting its internal task-based cycles. Rapidly restoring the disrupted cycles mitigates this harmful effect, but such cycle restoration is not successful when there is a high level of cycle activity or when multiple areas of the MTS are disrupted. Our findings generate new knowledge on how and why leadership task transitions impact MTSs. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1236-1264
Number of pages29
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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