Developing and refining a nonverbal coding scheme on effective leadership and followership behaviors in meetings: Preliminary results

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 1 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Jacco Smits, University of Twente (Change Management and Organizational Behavior)
Celeste Wilderom, University of Twente (Change Management and Organizational Behavior)

Background. The role of body language and nonverbal behavior in the workplace has received considerable attention in popular management outlets such as Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Yet, the extant scientific literature does not provide a uniform answer as to which nonverbal behaviors are most relevant to managers for improving their team’s effectiveness or for bringing its members to work towards a collective purpose and associated team and organizational goals. Several calls were made for organizational scholars to deepen out our understanding of the manners in which the nonverbal part of people’s interactions impact them (and others) at work, especially in the context of leadership effectiveness.

Aims. The aims of this paper are threefold: (1) to present a new nonverbal coding scheme suited for minutiously analyzing video-based observational data comprising entire (regularly held) organizational staff meetings, (2) to provide a set of guidelines for the further refinement and use of this coding scheme, and (3) to report preliminary results obtained from analyzing so-called thin slices of nonverbal behavior of 40 managers who are employed by one large public-organizational institute, while conducting their regularly held meetings with their own team-members.

Methods. First, this paper provides a thorough review of the literature on aspects of nonverbal behavior relevant to leadership effectiveness in regular work units; it includes the major existing nonverbal schemes. It includes a detailed description of how the currently presented nonverbal coding scheme was developed, modified and used in order to identify the nonverbal repertoire of leaders during regularly occurring staff meetings. The coding scheme was tested on our analyses of short video-segments of team meetings chaired by a spread of more or less effective managers.

Results. This paper details how to best adapt existing validated nonverbal coding schemes (e.g., MUMIN’s multimodal scheme) to one that is suitable for direct nonverbal behavioral analysis during meetings. The results also include examples of barriers and facilitators relevant for implementing nonverbal coding schemes in organizational field research. Reliability of the nonverbal categories, defined in the presented meeting-specific coding scheme, are shown to be satisfactory. Moreover, preliminary results indicate that the tool is meaningful for examining leadership effectiveness variation in teams: a repertoire of nonverbal behavior of managers, as coded by the scheme, is found significantly related to both follower (n = 425) and expert (n = 71) ratings of leadership effectiveness as well as team performance, and moreover to judgements made by a group of naïve observers (n = 13) about the managers’ characteristics.

Conclusions. In-depth, practical documentation on the complex and often time-consuming method of coding nonverbal behavior in frequently occurring meetings was lacking: thus, hindering meeting researchers to examine empirically specific micro non-verbal behaviors that may promote or hinder desirable team-level outcomes.


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