Journal of Organizational Behavior

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Volume 40 Issue 3 (March 2019), Pages 231-385

On the origins of informal hierarchy: The interactive role of formal leadership and task complexity (pages 311-324)

Summary Informal hierarchies are a common and important feature of many groups, yet we know little about the antecedent conditions that determine the strength of such hierarchies. Building on theory that has depicted hierarchy as a mechanism for reducing uncertainty and creating structure, we posit that informal hierarchies emerge most strongly in situations that are ambiguous, ill‐defined, and unstructured. Three independent studies confirm this notion, demonstrating that groups develop particularly strong informal hierarchies in situations characterized by both a lack of strong formal leadership and high task complexity. These findings support the theoretical notion that formal and informal hierarchies are closely related, but only under conditions of high task complexity in which the structuring functions of hierarchies are most crucial.

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