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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Jeremy Kendal

Offord, M., Gill, R. & Kendal, J. (2019). The Effects of Prestige on Collective Performance and Information Flow in a Strictly Hierarchical Institution. Palgrave Communications 5(1): 4.

Author(s) from Durham


Institutions such as the military aim to respond efficiently to complex logistical challenges using a strictly hierarchical structure, where leaders are assigned a rank by senior colleagues and team members are trained to obey leader commands. Anthropologists have observed that leadership status outside of these top-down hierarchical institutions is often affected by the attribution of prestige by non-leaders. Here we show that even in the strictly hierarchical institutional context of the Royal Navy, informal prestige networks play a functional role in leadership efficacy and group-level dynamics. Specifically, a team leader’s informal prestige is a far stronger predictor of team performance and rate of information transmission during training exercises at sea than their formal rank. We find that the more decentralised the prestige network the more efficient it is for disseminating information. The implications of our findings for traditional conceptions of leadership in hierarchical institutions and the effects of prestige on group-level behaviour are discussed.