In the first article of this series we looked at task roles and the common behaviors associated with these roles. This time we’ll consider the second category of roles that typically emerge in group activities: maintenance roles.
Maintenance roles are those that spring from a desire to meet the interpersonal needs of the group. Driven by a strong need to create and maintain social cohesion, group members who take on these roles have strong communication and relationship building skills and are compelled to use them to support effective group function. The following behaviors are exhibited by individuals who assume maintenance roles in group settings.
- What: Being friendly, warm, and responsive to others; accepting others and their contributions; regarding others by giving them an opportunity to contribute or be recognized.
- When: Regularly.
- How: Give recognition for contributions to the group, point out the accomplishments of the group.
“That was a really good suggestion, Chris. Thanks.”
“We have accomplished a lot today. Thanks.”
- What: Attempting to reconcile disagreements; reducing tension, getting people to explore their differences.
- When: When the group cannot reach consensus, when conflict of ideas, opinions or personality is preventing progress.
- How: Articulate the common elements in conflicting points of view.
“What can we do to get you to support this? What can we all agree on?”
“We seem to be stuck. What can we do to move the discussion along?”
Expressing Group Feelings
- What: Sensing feelings, mood, and relationships within the group; sharing one’s own feelings with other members.
- When: When the group is having trouble making a decision, when you sense a conflict in the group, as a check-in to see how the group is doing.
- How: Verbalizing what you see as the feelings, mood, or tension in the group. Openly acknowledging your own feelings about what is going on in the group.
“I am sensing that there is some tension in the room. Does anyone else feel it?”
“It seems like some people have withdrawn from this discussion. Is that something we need to discuss?”
- What: Helping to keep communication channels open: facilitating the participation of others, suggesting procedures that permit sharing remarks.
- When: Whenever you want to hear from the more silent members of the group, whenever you want to prevent a participant from dominating the discussion.
- How: Ask an individual for their opinions or the information; be sensitive to the non-verbal signals indicating that people want to participate; when a person monopolizes the conversation, ask others for input
“Jeff, did you want to share something?”
“Thanks for your input, Robin. I would like to know what the rest of you think.”
- What: When your own ideas or status is involved in a conflict, offering a compromise which yields status; admitting error, modifying ideas in interest of group cohesion or growth.
- When: When the group is stuck, when trying to make a decision and there are opposing views.
- How: Offering suggestions for getting unstuck; asking the group members to figure out a compromise.
“I guess this method may not be the best for accomplishing this task. Shall we try Kim’s idea?”
“I feel like we are stuck with two opposing views, what can we do to reach a compromise?”
Standard Setting and Testing
- What: Checking whether the group is satisfied with its procedures; suggesting new procedures when necessary.
- When: When the group first meets together, whenever the norms that are developing prevent the group from functioning effectively.
- How: Help group define its ground rules; remind group of the standards they established for themselves anytime when those rules are ignored or broken.
“How do we want to operate as a group?”
“Seems like our ground rules have been forgotten. Should we take a few minutes and revisit them?”
“I just want to remind you of the ground rules we set up in the beginning.”
Like task roles, maintenance roles demonstrate some ways in which individuals can assume leadership in teams and groups. Rather than focusing on task completion, however, maintenance roles aim to create and maintain social cohesion.
Many groups and teams have official leaders. The most effective also depend on many informal leaders, who contribute according to their own abilities, preferences, personalities and aspirations. When people are encouraged to contribute in as many of these roles as possible, leadership becomes a mutual undertaking and the entire team assumes ownership for delivering a successful outcome.
Watch for Part 3 of this series when we delve into the less productive, more obstructive roles that commonly emerge in group settings.
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 Excerpted 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