What does Tannenbaum & Schmidt Continuum Theory say?

In the past few decades, many leadership gurus came up with different definitions of leadership styles. Out of those theories, many of them are based on task – relationship characteristics. In 1938, Lewin and Lippitt proposed classifications of leaders based on how much involvement leaders placed into task and relationship needs.

Almost after four decades, in 1973, Tannenbaum & Schmidt came up with a continuum of earlier studies with range of leadership behaviors, ranging from manager-centered (task) to subordinate-centered (relationship).

Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model shows the relationship between the levels of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager. As we already discussed in Situational leadership, number of parameters goes into choosing the managerial style: manager’s competence, subordinate’s developmental level, the situation.

Based on the above parameters, level of delegation takes any one of the seven levels as depicted by the central arrow line.

tannenbaum schmidt continuum theory model
Tannenbaum & Schmidt concentrated more on delegation & freedom in decision making to subordinates and there by on the team development. As the team’s freedom increases, the manager’s authority decreases. This is a positive way for both teams and managers to develop. We already dealt delegating in  a different blog post.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt defined 7 levels of delegated freedom which moves from manager-oriented to subordinate-oriented. As team develops, level moves from one to the next – the area of freedom increases and the need for manager’s intervention decreases. Following levels are self-explanatory and easy to understand:

1. Manager takes decision and announces it – only manager plays the decision-making role; no team involvement

2. Manager decides and then “Sells” his decision to the team – no change in decision; but team may raise some concerns

3. Manager presents decision with background ideas for the decision and invite questions – team knows what options manager considered for his decision; more team involvement

4. Manager suggests provisional decision & invites discussion regarding the decision – team can have a say on manager’s decision; it can be changed based on discussion

5. Manager presents the problem or situation, get suggestions, then decides – team is free to come up with options; manager decides on those options

6. Manager explains the situation or problem, defines the parameters and asks team to decide on the solution – manager delegated whole thing to the team; but still manager is accountable for the outcome

7. Manager allows team to develop options and decide on the action, within the manager’s received limit – complete freedom level; team does all the work almost as what the manager does at level 1.

The main advantage of this theory: for leaders/managers – it defines the criteria for involvement and delegation & range of choices for the involvement.


Update on 08/16/2011 – Added Google Doc Presentation of this Article: