Team roles - My Working Life

Team Roles
For a team to perform effectively there are a number of important roles that need to be undertaken by its
members. Each role can be taken on by one individual although people may adopt more than one role. Who
does what will depend on the size of the team and the skills and abilities of the individuals.
Research into team roles started in the middle of the 20th Century as part of an overall interest by company
leaders and academics to find out how to improve their operational effectiveness and profitability. To
understand how these roles have been defined I have outlined four models that have shaped how we see
teams, the individual roles and what part they play to make sure that the work is completed.
1. Benne and Sheats
The first model was designed by Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats in the 1940s and has influenced all
subsequent research on group functions. Benne and Sheats differentiates from other models by including
roles, or behaviours, that prevent a team from working effectively. They described three group categories
with 26 different group roles, including:
Task Roles
Personal / Social Roles
Dysfunctional / Individual Roles
These relate to the practical aspect of
getting the job done from idea to action.
Your job may include more than one of
these roles.
The people who hold these roles perform
the ‘interpersonal glue’ that is required for
the group to function effectively.
These roles focus on individual needs
and desires which can disrupt the group
progress and weaken the interpersonal
Initiator/Contributor: Proposes ideas or
ways to approach group problems or
Encourager: Supports, and praises the
efforts of fellow group members.
Aggressor: Belittles and insults team
members in an attempt to decrease their
Information Seeker / Giver: These two
roles provide flow of information and
clarification needed by the team.
Harmonizer: Conciliates differences
between individuals. Finds ways to
reduce tension and diffuse situations.
Blocker: Opposes ideas / opinions put
forward and yet refuses to make own
Opinion Seeker / Giver: These two roles
manage the attitudes, values and
opinions of the group.
Compromiser: Offers to change his or
her position for the good of the group.
Recognition Seeker: Uses group
meetings to draw attention and distract
from the task at hand.
Elaborator: Takes ideas and builds on
them to assess consequences of
proposed ideas.
Gatekeeper/Expediter: Regulates
communication so that all members can
express themselves.
Self-Confessor: Uses group meetings to
disclose personal feelings and issues.
Co-ordinator: Identifies and explains the
relationships between ideas and makes
them cohesive.
Observer/Commentator: Provides
feedback to the group on how it is
functioning to guide future actions.
Disrupter: Uses group meetings for fun,
distracting others as a way to get out of
real work.
Orienter: Reviews the group's position,
where it has gone off course and how to
get back on target.
Follower – Accepts what others say and
decide without contributing to the
decision. Seen as a listener.
Dominator: Tries to control the
conversation, dictates to others often
exaggerating own knowledge.
Evaluator/Critic: Evaluates ideas against
an agreed standard to see if it is factbased and manageable.
Special Interest Pleader: Avoids
revealing their own biases / opinions by
using other peoples ideas / views.
Energizer: Focuses the group's energy
on the future. Challenges and stimulates
the group to take action.
Help Seeker: Actively looks for sympathy
by expressing feelings of inadequacy.
Procedural Technician: Manages
logistics (e.g. room / supplies) for group
Recorder: Acts as the secretary or
minute-keeper for each meeting.
2. Belbin
Over the decades the research on team roles progressed and, during the 1970‘s, the most famous expert in
this field, Dr Meredith Belbin, emerged. He started pioneering work on team roles / types producing the most
cited, and popular, team roles model used in business today. The Belbin Team Inventory first appeared in his
book Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail (1981). You can see how Benne and Sheats may
have influenced Belbin although his model is simpler focussing on the positive roles needed by a team.
His later work lists nine roles that sit within three distinct groups1: For the past 40 years Belbin, and others,
have developed and amended his description of team roles
Most people can satisfy more than one role and the best team workers can adapt their behaviour to fill
different roles as required. An awareness that an individual team member tends to fit a certain profile will
provide a guide to the strengths and weaknesses of that individual and other team members. It can also help
managers to see if there are gaps in the team structure that could affect the success of the project.
Action Oriented Roles
People Oriented Roles
Thought Oriented Roles
Shaper: dynamic and challenging
Coordinator: mature, confident, a
Plant: creative, imaginative and
with the drive and courage to
good chairperson who can clarify
unorthodox helps them solve difficult
overcome obstacles.
goals and promote decision making.
Implementer: disciplined, reliable
Team Worker: co-operative, mild
Monitor-Evaluator: sober, strategic
and conservative they turn ideas into
and perceptive uses diplomatic skills
and discerning. Able to see all
practical action.
to build consensus and avert friction.
Completer Finisher: painstaking,
Resource Investigator: extrovert,
Specialist: single-minded, self-
conscientious and anxious they will
enthusiastic, exploratory. External
starting and dedicated with an
find errors and omissions and deliver
focus finds opportunities and
expertise that may be in short supply.
on time.
develops contacts.
3. Peter Honey
In the 1980‘s Peter Honey took Belbin’s Team Roles and reduced these down to five key roles:
❖ The Leader: ensures that the team has clear objectives and that everyone is involved and committed.
❖ The Challenger: questions effectiveness and presses for improvement and results.
❖ The Doer: urges the team to get on with the job in hand and does practical tasks.
❖ The Thinker: produces carefully considered ideas and weighs up and improves ideas from others.
❖ The Supporter: eases tension and maintains team harmony.
Honey described the elements responsible for team synergy as 2:
❖ the style of the leader
❖ the behaviour of the team members
❖ the team’s working procedures
❖ the nature of the team’s task
❖ the availability of relevant resources.
1 BELBIN, R.M. (1993) Team roles at work. 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
2 HONEY, P. (2001) Teams and teamwork. Peter Honey Publications (now part of Pearson Press).
4. MTR-i
The MTR-i team roles 3 was developed by Steve Myers during the 1990s. The eight MTR-i team roles show
the different types of contribution that are made to the team.
❖ Coaches: focus on agreement, consensus and harmony to create a positive team atmosphere.
❖ Crusaders: give a sense of priority, to focus discussions on the most important issues and topics.
❖ Explorers: uncover the potential in situations and people and explores new areas / possibilities.
❖ Innovators: produce a sense of imagination and contribute new and alternative perspectives and ideas.
❖ Sculptors: creates action to address the most urgent matters (using proven tools or techniques).
❖ Curators: clarifies ideas and information, improving knowledge and understanding of any situation.
❖ Conductors: produce structure and introduce a logical organisation into the way things are done.
❖ Scientists: explains what is happening, how things work and the cause of problems (using models)
5. Defining your role
To be an effective team player you need to understand your own strengths, preferences, skills and abilities.
With this understanding you will be able to identify the roles that suit you and adapt to the roles that you may
find challenging.
Whatever model is used you will notice that the roles are categorised within three basic groups:
❖ Practical: these roles relate to the process of getting a project completed and involve doing. They include
the creation of structure and process, technical, practical and logistical activities as well as behaving in a
way that drives, motivates and encourages others to move forward.
❖ Conceptual: these roles entail reflective, thinking positions involving ideas, information and knowledge.
They may be creative and instigate new ideas, build on other people’s concepts or evaluate current
thinking and feed back to the team.
❖ Interpersonal: these roles involve the ability to agreement and consensus within the team through
empathy and communication. These can be supportive, coaching / mentoring or leading roles.
The models described above each have detailed questionnaires that can be completed to assess your best
team role. For reasons of copyright we are not allowed to duplicate these questionnaires within this website.
(Please note, you may be charged for completing these questionnaires).
You should first speak to your manager or HR department to see if your employer has a license to use team
role questionnaires. If so ask them if you can complete a questionnaire as part of your development plan.
6. How to become a team player
There are many ways that you can enhance your team working skills and how you can contribute in a
positive way. Of course some of you will love being part of a team (and will already be a member of a social
or sporting team) whilst others will prefer working alone and love spending weekends curled up with a good
book! Whether you describe yourself as a team player or not the actions outlined in this section will still
Why is this? If you see yourself as a social extrovert you may assume that you will be a natural team player.
This is not always true. You may enjoy the company of other people and hate working in your own, but your
interactions with other people may be driven by your own needs and not those of the team. If you are an
introvert you may have heard the message that you are not a team player. Again, this is not always true. You
may prefer to work alone or within smaller groups but your emotional intelligence may be high which will help
smooth the dynamics of the group.
These examples may describe “opposite extremes” but they explain why everyone who works as part of a
team needs to be aware of:
❖ What an effective team looks like (see Team structures®).
❖ The various “team roles” and how they contribute (see above).
❖ What you can do to become a good team player.
One factor that underpins a good team is trust between the team members. It is a word that is used
frequently when talking about relationships but what does this mean and how can it help teams? According
to the work of David Maister4, trust in another party develops over time as a function of 4 key elements as
whown in the diagram below:
T = Trustworthiness
C = Credibility
R = Reliability
I = Intimacy
S = Self-orientation
What this diagram says is that Trust is a built on:!
❖ the technical credibility of the other party (are they able to do the job),
❖ their reliability to deliver the job (do they do what they have committed to), and
❖ their willingness to be open and honest (intimacy) with their thoughts and feelings on the subject.
However, any trust between team members will be undermined if individuals think that another member is
acting through self-orientation (i.e. self interest or self-centeredness) as this gives the impression that the
relationship is one-sided.
To help you build trust and become a valued team member you should focus on the following three areas:
❖ Competence: Your colleagues want to know that you have the knowledge and skills needed to do the job
you especially if your outputs impact on them. You must make sure that your technical skills are current.
❖ Contribution: Your ability to do the job will only be valued by your colleagues when you show that you
will do what is expected of you. Complete the tasks that are allocated to you on time and to the standard
that is required by your employers, colleagues and clients. There is nothing for a team than having its
performance being damaged by one member “coasting” or producing poor work.
❖ Cooperation: The final aspect is to be supportive to your team members. Focus on praise, not criticism,
to develop team confidence and cooperation. Suggest a buddy system so that you know who will step in
to cover during absences and support during busy times. Volunteering for additional work (as long as you
have the time and resources to complete the tasks) to help other team members is also valued.
To develop your skills in the above areas review the resources in Start Right and Work Right.
4 *Maister, Green & Galford: The Trusted Advisor, (2001)