People typically take on one or more pre-defined roles in a group setting. Some of these roles are positive and contribute to the successful group activities, while others are either obstructive or noncommittal.
Managing teams and facilitating any kind of group interaction can be challenging. Gaining a better understanding of common group personas and behaviors can provide valuable insight and increase the likelihood of a successful project outcome.
The Roles People Play
Over time and after considerable research, social psychologists and educators have identified three categories of roles and a variety of identifiable behavior patterns that emerge consistently in group settings. They’ve labelled these three categories task roles, maintenance roles and hindering (or blocking or negative) roles.
In this three part series, we will explore the three categories of roles common to group dynamics and describe some behaviors that fall into each. You will likely recognize members of your team in these descriptions. You may even identify yourself!
Task roles are those that involve the actions of individuals within the group that help move the task, decision or project forward. In any group situation, one or more task leaders will naturally emerge (especially if no one has been officially assigned that role.) Task roles may involve furthering the big-picture agenda of the group, or may reflect more of a procedural task focus.
The following behaviors are exhibited by those who take on a task role within the group.
- What: Proposing task or goals; defining a group problem; suggesting procedure or ideas for getting the task accomplished.
- When: At the beginning of a meeting, when the meeting bogs down, or when the group needs direction or new direction.
- How: Define the task; suggest a method or process for accomplishing the task; provide a structure for the meeting.
“It seems like we are being asked to …”,
“Does it seem like a good idea to begin by…?”
Information or Opinion Seeking
- What: Requesting facts; seeking relevant information about a question or concern; asking for suggestions, ideas or opinions.
- When: Problem solving, decision making, action planning, group discussion.
- How: Ask for more facts; collect data; seek individual opinions, ideas and suggestions.
“What are the likely solutions?”,
“Mary, what do you think of that idea?”,
“What else do we need to know before we can proceed?”
- What: Interpreting or reflecting ideas and suggestions; clearing up conclusions; indicating alternatives and issues before the group; giving examples, defining terms.
- When: Any time the group discussion becomes too vague, too general or lacks focus; when a lot of information has been put out.
- How: Ask for clarification of an example; build on the ideas of others; clarify an idea based on your understanding; try to develop timid suggestions and half stated ideas into fully developed possibilities.
“What I think I hear you saying is ___”,
“Robert, can you explain your idea a bit more,”
“Cecilia, do you see how that idea relates to what Luis said earlier?”
- What: Pulling together related ideas; restating suggestions after the group has discussed them; offering a decision or conclusion for the group to accept or reject.
- When: At each transition in the meeting, when many different ideas or proposals are being considered, when the group gets off track; at the end of a meeting/ discussion.
- How: Restate the points, decisions, action plans or common themes of the discussion; remind the group of the process or method being used.
“Let’s take a minute to look at the main themes that are arising in our discussion”
“It looks like the main points being raised are ___”
“Remember that each person needs to offer a suggestion before we begin an open discussion.”
- What: Checking with the group to see how much agreement has been reached and how ready the group members are to consider a decision.
- When: Problem solving, decision making, action planning.
- How: Poll the group on an issue or decision to determine whether a consensus already exists.
“Are there any objections to using creative brainstorming to identify potential solutions for our problem?”
“Is there agreement that…?”
- What: Taking notes of discussion, recording decisions and ensuring that a record of action items and accountabilities is created.
- When: During group meetings and work sessions.
- How: Writing or typing notes, creating audio or video recordings of proceedings.
- What: Expedites group process and progress by doing things for the group.
- When: before, during and after group meetings.
- How: Setting up room, troubleshooting technology, distributing materials, organizing food, etc.
Task-related group roles contribute directly to the completion of the specific tasks required to achieve the group’s mandate. By taking on one or more task roles, group participants demonstrate varying degrees of leadership. Which role(s) group members play will depend upon their abilities, personality, preferences and aspirations. Individuals may take on more than one role in the same group, and some roles may be shared by more than one group member at the same or different times. Even when a team has a designated leader, it will function more effectively with the informal leadership contribution of those who take on task roles.
Part two of this series will consider the second category of group behavior roles, known as maintenance roles.
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 From Roles People Play in Groups. Ann Porteus, Senior Lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Education
http://web.stanford.edu/group/resed/resed/staffresources/RM/training/grouproles.html and A Primer on Communication Studies (v. 1.0), Group Member Roles, section 14.2, Creative Commons License http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/a-primer-on-communication-studies/s14-02-group-member-roles.html