Group and Team Roles
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. These roles may be both as a team member, or involving some sort of leadership—and it is important to stress that any team member can take on a leadership role if necessary.
The word ‘role’ describes how someone behaves and their function or functions within the group as a whole. Group roles are not necessarily static, and people may adopt different roles at different times during the group’s life-cycle (see our page Group Life-Cycle for more information). The role of the leader or facilitator will also change and evolve as group dynamics change over time.
Defining and Exploring Team Roles
To understand how a group operates, it is necessary to look at both the role of the group leader and 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 to others.
Meredith Belbin identified nine roles, or clusters of behaviour, shown by people working in groups.
Belbin noticed that groups that showed all nine types of behaviour within the group were more effective than groups that lacked one or more key roles. This does not mean that nine people are needed in every group, however. Instead, each group member can—and does—take on more than one role. The roles are categorised as either task-oriented or people-oriented.
Belbin's team roles are:
The Shaper is a task-focused, dynamic, outgoing member of the team; they are often argumentative, provocative and impatient.
These traits may mean that they cause friction with other members of the group, especially those who are more people-orientated. However, Shapers are often very effective workers. They push the group towards agreement and decision making, and are keen to remove barriers and embrace challenges.
Implementers get things done. They are also task-focused, and have the ability to transform discussions and ideas into practical activities.
Implementers are conscientious and want things to be done properly. They are very practical and organised, hence their ability to get the job done. However, implementers can sometimes be stuck in their ways and not always open to new ideas and way of doing things. They would often rather stick to tried and tested methods than embrace change and innovation.
The Completer–Finisher is another task-oriented member of the group. As the 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 often 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, and very people-focused.
Coordinators take on leadership or chairperson roles by clarifying goals and objectives, helping to allocate roles, responsibilities and duties within the group. Coordinators have excellent interpersonal skills and are able to communicate effectively with team members through good listening, verbal and non-verbal communication.
Team Workers help 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. They can, however, be indecisive in group decisions, and may be torn between the welfare of members and the ability of the team to deliver.
The Resource Investigator is a strong people-focused communicator.
They are very good at negotiating with people outside the team and gathering external information and resources. Resource Investigators are curious and sociable by 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 task-focused 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 because of their highly creative nature, and they may ignore known constraints when developing their ideas. Plants are often introverts who may have poor communication skills. They can be loners and enjoy working away from the rest of the group.
The Monitor–Evaluator is another task-focused role.
These people are unlikely to get aroused in group discussions. They tend to be clever and unemotional, often detached 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. They are also keen critical thinkers.
The Specialist has expert task-based knowledge in some area that is vital to the success of the group.
The Specialist provides knowledge and skills in a narrow area. They often dwell on practicalities in their expert area, and may have problems applying their expertise to the wider goals of the team. Specialists tend to be single-minded and professional.
It is worth saying that any group member, whether designated leader or not, can take on any group role. However, within Belbin’s team roles, there are two that are more often associated with leadership: Shaper and Coordinator.
A Shaper leader will be very task-focused, aiming to get the job done in the way that they believe will be best.
A Coordinator leader will facilitate the group’s ways of working, helping the group to achieve its aims. These leaders are much more people-focused.
Particularly for Coordinator leaders, the term ‘facilitator’ may be more appropriate than leader. These leaders focus less on directing, and more on enabling the group to achieve its aims. They may even eventually take a back seat, handing over the leadership role to other members of the group. For more about this type of leadership, see our page on Facilitation Skills.
Other Models of Group Leadership
Our page on Leadership Styles sets out that there are many different theories of leadership. 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. Leaders may also change their style and/or develop a style that uses more than one style.
For example, White and Lippett identified three styles of leadership: autocratic; democratic; and laissez-faire.
The Autocratic leader takes full control of the group and dictates what will happen.
This includes the direction of the group and the steps needed to complete the aims and objectives. We can link this style back to Belbin’s Shaper role, because it is again very task-focused. Autocratic leaders tend to praise and criticise individuals within the group, rather than the group as a whole. They will also focus on the ‘big picture’, and often distance themselves from the detail of the group’s work after having told the group what to do.
The Democratic leader runs the group as a democracy.
They try to give group members a choice whenever possible and appropriate. Democratic leaders will therefore allow group members to decide how they wish to work to best achieve the aims and objectives of the group. These leaders are more likely to be present in the group, offering advice and alternative ways of accomplishing a task when appropriate. We can equate these leaders to Belbin’s Coordinators.
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 laissez-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. This approach does not fit with any Belbin role, and arguably is not an effective member or leader of any group. However, the kindest interpretation of this role is that these leaders are often figureheads with expert knowledge, who can be called upon if needed by the group.
The Contingency Theory of Leadership
Fred Fiedler developed the Contingency Theory of Leadership in 1967. This suggests that leaders can take either a task-oriented or relationship-oriented style, depending on the group situation.
In other words, the Belbin role adopted by the leader is not so much a matter of personal preference as a response to the group dynamics.
Fiedler suggested that:
When a group situation is highly favourable or unfavourable to the leader, a task-oriented approach is more effective.
When a group situation is only moderately favourable or unfavourable to the leader, a relationship-oriented style is more appropriate.
Task- vs. People-Focused Leadership
We have therefore noted that leaders may therefore be either task- or people-focused in their style, and that this may be a matter of personal choice or contingent on the group situation.
It follows that groups often require both types of leadership.
Individuals within the group also tend to fall into one of the two categories, and be either more task- or relationship-orientated. Some leaders may be able to move between the two styles—this is hard, but not impossible. Other groups may appoint two leaders, one to focus on task aspects and the other on relationship aspects. However, in other groups, some leadership roles may be taken by other members of the group to compensate for the designated leader’s preference.
A Final Word
It is perfectly possible for people to adopt different team roles at different times. You may recognise a preference for one or two particular roles among the descriptions above. However, you will almost certainly adopt different roles in different scenarios—and particularly when working with different groups (and there is more about this in our page on Effective Team-Working).
Individual preferences for particular team roles often become more obvious when a team or group has had time to reach maturity and develop cohesiveness.