Leadership emergence in engineering design teams
Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences
Leaders emerge from leaderless groups as part of a more complex emerging social structure. Several studies have shown that the emerging structure is aptly described by a swallowtail catastrophe model where the control parameters differ depending on whether creative problem solving, production, coordination-intensive, or emergency management groups are involved. The present study explored creative problem solving further where the participants were engaged in real-world tasks extending over several months rather than short laboratory tasks. Participants were 144 engineering students who were organized into 28 groups of 4 to 6 people who designed, built, and tested a prototype product that would solve a real-world problem. At the 10th week of work they completed a questionnaire indicating who was most like the leader of their group, second most like the leader, along with 13 other questions about individuals” contributions to the group process. Results showed that the swallowtail model (R2 = .90) exhibited a strong advantage over the linear alternative model (R2 = .47) for predicting leadership emergence. The three control variables were control of the task, creative contributions to the group”s work, and facilitating the creative contributions of others.