Roles in Groups and Teams
This page is part of our series covering 'Groups and Teams' and looks at the various roles people take on as part of a formal group. The roles and responsibilities of the leader or facilitator and the individual members working within the group or team are examined.
The word 'role' refers to how a person will behave and what function they will perform within the group as a whole.
Group roles are not necessarily static – people may adopt different roles at different times during the group’s life-cycle. See our page: Group Life-Cycle for more information. Likewise the role of the leader or facilitator will change and evolve as group dynamics change and evolve over time.
See also: Leadership Styles
The term ‘facilitator’ is sometimes used rather than leader, because the role is often not so much one of directing, than enabling the group to achieve its aims. In many groups, the leader may eventually take a back seat, handing over the leadership role to other members of the group.
There are many different theories of leadership and people have tried to describe leaders in many different ways. White & Lippett identified three styles of leadership: autocratic; democratic; and laissez-faire in 1960, these styles are still used today to define different leader types. Different styles of leadership may be appropriate at different stages in a group’s development. Different people with different personalities will adopt different leadership styles – some may be more appropriate than others at any given time. Leaders may change their style and/or adapt a style that encompasses more than one of the styles listed here:
The Autocratic leader takes full control of the group and dictates what will happen – the direction of the group and the steps needed to complete the aims and objectives. Autocratic leaders tend to praise and criticize individuals with the group, rather than the group as a whole. Although very much in control of the direction of the group the autocratic leader will tend to distance themselves from the actual work of the group after having told the group what to do.
The Democratic leader runs the group as a democracy, giving choice whenever possible and appropriate. The democratic leader will allow group members to decide how they wish to work in order to best complete the aims and objectives of the group. The democratic leader is more likely to be present in the group, offering advice and alternative ways of accomplishing a task when appropriate.
The Laissez-Faire leader is very laid back in their approach. Laissez-Faire leaders give complete freedom to individual and group decisions and rarely make suggestions or attempt to direct the group in any particular way. Although happy to help with advice and supply information the lasses-faire leader will only do so when asked. It could be argued that the laissez-faire leader does not lead at all, in the traditional sense of the word, they are often a figure-head with expert knowledge that can be called upon if needed by the group.
Fred Fiedler developed the Contingency Theory of Leadership in 1967, suggesting that when a group situation is highly favourable or unfavourable to the leader a task-oriented approach is more effective. When however a group situation is only moderately favourable to the leader then a relationship-oriented style is more appropriate.
There are two basic types of task leadership and group maintenance leadership:
- Task Leadership Roles usually include giving and seeking information from the group, asking the opinions of all group members, keeping the group energised, evaluating performance and giving direction to the group.
- Maintenance Leadership Roles usually include encouraging engagement of group members, relieving any tensions that form within the group, building rapport, trust and respect, resolving conflict and drawing people into the group – increasing cohesiveness.
Groups often require both types of leadership, as individuals within the group tend to fall into one of the two categories; that is they are either more task or relationship (maintenance) orientated. Some leadership roles may need to be taken by other members of the group in order to compensate for this mismatch in psychology.
See also: Developing Your Leadership Style
To understand how a group operates it is necessary not only to look that the role of the group leader but also at the roles of the individual members of the group.
We use the word ‘role’ in this context to describe how people behave, contribute and relate with others, in other words we attempt to categorise personality types so that strengths and weaknesses can be identified and recognised amongst the group members.
Meredith Belbin’s work on Team Roles or Functions is often used to investigate how individuals behave or what functions they perform in a group.
Belbin identifies nine group roles, or clusters of behaviour. These roles have been categorised as either function (or task-oriented) or cerebral (people-oriented), fitting with the task and relationship roles of leadership as described above.
Belbin's team roles are:
The Shaper is a dynamic, outgoing member of the team; they are often argumentative, provocative and impatient.
These traits may mean that they cause friction with other, especially people-orientated, members of the group. Due to the personality of the Shaper they push the group towards agreement and decision making, keen to remove barriers and embrace challenges.
Implementers get things done – they have the ability of transforming discussions and ideas into practical activities.
Implementers are conscientious, wanting things to be done properly. They are very practical and organised in nature hence their ability to get the job done. Implementers can be stuck in their ways, not always open to new ideas and way of doing things. Implementers would rather stick to old, tried and tested methods than to embrace change and innovation.
The Completer/Finisher is a task-orientated member of the group and as their name implies they like to complete tasks.
The Completer/Finisher can be an anxious person worried about deadlines and targets – they are perfectionists and have good attention to detail but also worry about delegating tasks. They would rather do something themselves and know that it was done properly than delegate to somebody else.
Delegation can be a challenge for many people, see our page Delegation Skills for more information.
The Coordinator is often a calm, positive and charismatic member of the team.
Coordinators take on leadership or chairperson roles by clarifying goals and objectives, helping to allocate roles, responsibilities and duties within the group. The Coordinator has excellent interpersonal skills, being able to communicate effectively with team members through good listening, verbal and non-verbal communication.
The Team Worker helps by giving support and encouragement to the other members of the team.
This team-oriented member is concerned about how others in the team are managing. Team Workers have sensitive, outgoing personalities and are happy to listen and act as the team counsellor.
Team Workers are usually popular members of the team, able to effectively negotiate and work towards the good of the group. Team Workers can, however, be indecisive in group decisions – torn between the welfare of members and the ability of the team to deliver.
The Resource Investigator is a strong communicator, good at negotiating with people outside the team and gathering external information and resources.
Resource Investigators are curious and sociable in their nature they are open to new ideas and ways of accomplishing tasks. Being flexible, innovative and open to change, Resource Investigators are listened to by other team members. Sometimes, however, they are unrealistic in their optimism.
The Plant is an intellectual and individualistic member of the team.
The Plant is innovative and will suggest new and creative ways of problem solving within the team. Sometimes the ideas of the Plant may be impracticable due to their highly creative nature – they may ignore known constraints when developing their ideas. Plants are often introverts who may have poor communication skills, they are loners and enjoy working away from the rest of the group.
The Monitor Evaluator is unlikely to get aroused in group discussions – they tend to be clever and unemotional, often detected from other members of the team.
The monitor evaluator will critically evaluate and analyse the proposals, ideas and contributions of others in the team. Monitor Evaluators carefully weigh up advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses of ideas and proposals and therefore are usually good decision makers.
Monitor evaluators are keen critical thinkers.
The Specialist has expert knowledge in some area that is vital to the success of the group.
The specialist provides knowledge and skills in this narrow area. Dwelling on practicalities in their expert area the Specialist may have problems applying their expertise to the wider goals of the team. Specialists tend to be single-minded and professional.
Summary of Group Roles
It is perfectly possible for people to adapt to different team roles at different times. Although you may recognise your personality type in the descriptions above you will almost certainly adopt different roles in different scenarios. Team roles often become more prevalent when a team or group has had time to reach maturity and develop cohesiveness.