The Importance of Being a Follower

Figure 5.1

As we have mentioned, effective teamwork has many benefits. However, most of the work in teams is done by followers, and thus followership is vital to developing a strong team. According to Howell and Mendez (2008), there are three sets of tips for being an effective follower and thus an effective team member:

Followership as an interactive role

Around a table

As a team member and a follower you’re encouraged to complement and support the leadership role. Followers are highly motivated to engage with their leaders to achieve organizational goals. In order to strengthen the team in a followership role, you’re encouraged to:

  • Demonstrate job-related knowledge and competence.
  • Build collaborative and supportive relationships with colleagues and the leader.
  • Support the leader in front of others.

Followership as an independent role

Reading a book

Followership as an independent role reflects a trend for followers to act independently of their leaders as a leader substitute. When leadership substitutes exist, leaders can focus on other tasks that often go unattended, such as follower development, advocacy, and obtaining resources. Those who want to lead are well served by first endeavoring to follow. As a leader substitute you should:

  • Influence the leader in a confident and unemotional manner to help the leader avoid costly mistakes.
  • Show concern for performance as well as a supportive, friendly atmosphere.

Followership as a shifting role

Circular role

The role an individual takes in a team-based structure is often temporal and dependent on the requirements of a particular project or task. The same logic applies to student project teams. For example, leaders can emerge during the teamwork process, rather than have a professor appoint them. You may even be a follower at the beginning and find yourself taking a leadership position later in the project. Therefore, we recommend that you:

  • Monitor and interpret the environment to identify needed changes in the team.
  • Actively participate in the group’s decision making while taking responsibility for achieving its goals.
  • Challenge the team when necessary and maintaining a critical perspective on the group’s decisions.
  • Role-model the team member prototype by observing and adhering to the norms of the group.
  • Maintain an empathic relationship with rich communication among teammates.


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Teamwork: An Open Access Practical Guide Copyright © 2020 by Andrew M. Clark; Lolin Martins-Crane; Mengqi Zhan; and Justin Dellinger T. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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