This research focuses on reflective organisational learning within executive teams in local government authorities in Queensland, Australia. A key to achieving effective learning exchanges between a leader and the executive team examined in this thesis is the nature of the relationships established between the leader and individual members of these executive teams. In particular, the focus of this thesis is on the quality of exchange relationship between a leader and individual executive team members. The quality is likely to affect reflective, double-loop learning in dyads. A literature review suggests that there is little empirical research at the dyadic or team level on the quality of leader-member exchanges (LMX) and organisational learning across dyads in executive teams (Katzenbach, 1998, 2002). In this research I build upon the Leader Member Exchange Model (LMX) of leader-follower relationships to address this void.
The use of a multi-level approach allows me to start to untangle the dynamics of double-loop learning occurring through leader-follower (dyadic) units versus the team as an aggregation of these dyadic units. This application of multi-level analysis was exploratory, but potentially important given the inconsistency of loci of performance in LMX theory. That is, LMX theory holds that the key unit of focus is the individual dyad—for measuring LMX relationships—hence an analysis at the dyadic level should demonstrate that the more satisfying the leader's relationship to a follower is as perceived by that follower, the greater the propensity for the relationship to engage in learning activities. Yet that theory also relies on leaders forming different relationships with different members of a team, with the heterogeneity of these relationships affecting the overall performance of these teams. Particularly at LMX stage (c)—maturity—the theory suggests that the more homogeneously positive the dyadic leader-follower relationships are within a team, the greater the propensity for the team to engage in double-loop learning-like practices.
This research advances our understanding about the dyad and team level precursors of double-loop learning in executive teams. It does so by identifying and examining the relationships amongst organisational values (organisational commitment to learning and worker open-mindedness) and leader practices (leadership support, executive team empowerment, non-routine behaviour-based control and processes for sharing vision) that prior but disparate research have identified as key antecedents of reflective organisational learning. Specifically, this research develops and tests a theoretical model that involves the integration of LMX quality with core organisational values and leader practices. The model constructs are antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning that when combined are predicted to have a direct, mutual positive impact on the explication of tacit knowledge—a proxy for double-loop learning. An additive model is developed and tested. In its simplest form the general proposition tested is—the greater the presence (number and strength) of each of the core values and team leader practices, the more likely reflective (double-loop) organisational learning will occur.
The sample was drawn from the entire population of executive teams of 125 Queensland local government authorities. A local government authority executive team consists of a chief executive officer (CEO) and varying numbers of managers drawn from engineering, community services, economic development, finance/administration and town planning. A mail survey was used. In all, 215 executive team members from 78 teams responded. The n = 215 in stage one was sufficient to give parameter estimates with confidence. The rationale for choosing these executive teams for the research is twofold. First, the host organisations were keen to gauge the quality of the double-loop learning they were trying to create. Secondly, an executive team that seeks to be innovative is likely to display the characteristics of positive leader practices that encourage organisational learning.
The analyses involved a two stage process. Stage one involved the development of multi-level one-factor congeneric measurement models for the antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning, namely—organisational commitment to learning, worker open-mindedness, processes for sharing vision, leadership support, non-routine behaviour-based control and senior team empowerment. Stage one focused on examination of measurement properties and distributional properties of the data prior to testing structural equation models (SEMs) in stage two. Stage one included model specification, parameter estimation and the use of weight vectors of factor-score regression coefficients for maximising the reliability estimates of latent variables. Stage 2 focused on multilevel, multivariate analysis to examine and summarise data findings obtained from survey responses.
The statistical methods employed included partitioning of dyad and team level analyses in the multilevel software package—MlwiN. Stage 2 examined the structural properties of the data—using the LISREL 8.5 software package—to test SEMs of the relationships between constructs that were theorised to be antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning
The study found that executive teams that are characterised by favourable LMX relationships are more likely to engage in reflective, double-loop learning than those with less favourable LMX relationships. It also found a low to moderate relationship between explication of tacit knowledge (that is a proxy for double-loop learning) and the composite variable constructed for the antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning. In brief, the key finding is that the explication of tacit knowledge, moderated by LMX stage (c)-consistent behaviours and team homogeneity, has a positive, direct and indirect, but low impact on the antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning. As predicted, at both a dyad and team level, worker open-mindedness is reinforced by leadership support, senior team empowerment, non-routine behaviour-based control or processes for shared vision.
The findings also suggest that, as predicted, organisational commitment to learning is reinforced by these four variables. However, there are differences in these relationships between the dyad and team level structural equation models. In particular, the relationships between organisational commitment to learning and leadership support and the relationship between organisational commitment to learning and senior team empowerment are not significant at the dyad level of analysis but are significant at the team level of analysis. Whereas, the relationship between organisational commitment to learning and processes for sharing vision are significant at the dyad level of analysis but not at the team level of analysis.
The last two exceptions to the predictions are noteworthy. Specifically, the negative relationship between the organisational commitment to learning and non-routine behaviour-based control relationship at the team level of analysis—^but significant relationship between organisational commitment to learning and non-routine behaviour-based control at the dyadic level—suggests that double-loop learning is hindered when there is a maximization of idea creation and contradiction in viewpoints across dyads in a senior executive team. The non-significant relationship between organisational commitment to learning and processes for sharing vision relationship across dyads—in contrast to a significant relationship within dyads in an executive team—may be due to lower statistical power at the team level and future research can clarify this issue.
The results in general, support the view that executive teams characterised as engaging in behaviours consistent with favourable leader-member exchange (LMX) relationships are more likely to engage in reflective, double-loop learning than those with less favourable LMX relationships. The overall pattern of results suggests that antecedent values and leader practices of double-loop learning—rather than just being the antecedents of explication of tacit knowledge—are more likely to be a consequence of a teams reported engagement in the explication of tacit knowledge.
The finding that the relationship between the composite of the six antecedent variables across the dyads in a team with explication of tacit knowledge—as a proxy for double-loop learning—was moderated by the degree of homogeneity of these views provided support for LMX theory—that is the negative heterogeneity effect suggests that the team-level variation within dyads does matter when researching LMX quality. This finding that teams matter was also evident in the multi level analyses, where both dyad level and group level effects were found and the team effect was greater than the affect of its nested dyads.
The study also addressed a methodological problem that multi level analysis using WABA over exaggerates group and dyad effects (type I error) (Rowe, 2002a). The analyses in this study controlled for type I error in that MLwiN applies scaled means in its two-level variance covariance matrixes. This study found that the analyses at both the dyad level and team level is important. Further, by including the moderator of homogeneity, the study was able to show that studies of LMX that only look at one level are overlooking an important dynamic—that of the between dyads level of analysis in an executive team.
Implications for further research, policy and practice are provided.