Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2019.0707

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.

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