Roles and relationships in an effective work team

Roles and relationships – an effective work team  with A balance of roles

Like a football team, an effective work team needs its members to fill a range of roles. In a healthy team, members have robust relationships where they respect each other and deal with difficult situations like conflict. This section will help you to achieve a balance of roles in your team, and nurture effective relationships between members.

A balance of roles

Nobody’s perfect but a team can be.

Getting the work done means you need people to fill a variety of roles in your team. We’re not talking about the traditional task roles of ‘salesperson’ and ‘production operator’ which are usually fairly obvious from what the person does and their job description. We’re thinking about the less visible roles involved in the health of the team, like the creative role of generating ideas and the role of challenging opinions. While individuals often gravitate naturally to a particular role, you need to encourage team members to be flexible and take on different roles as needed. That way you can be sure you achieve a range of roles in your team.

A team is a group in which the individuals share a common aim and in which the jobs and skills of each member fit in with those of the others.
Adair (1987)

A range of roles

A team composed entirely of  ‘ideas people’ would be great at generating lots of ideas, but would probably flounder when it came to assessing the ideas and implementing the chosen ones. Your team needs people to take on a range of roles which complement each other. In this way the team becomes more than the sum of its parts.
A football team needs people to take on the roles of goalkeeper, fast forwards, creative strikers, strong defenders, manager, coach and referee.
As a bare minimum, your team members need to cover two roles:

task person – to ensure progress with the team’s tasks

maintenance person – to help the team function, for example, by handling conflict and interpersonal problems, and helping the team to solve problems and reach decisions.
Most teams include several people, who should aim to cover a broader range of roles, like those shown in the following table.

[Table 2.1] Examples of team roles

¼br> Role Says or does things like:  ¼br> Ideas person What about trying…?
This may sound daft, but…  ¼br> Driver Look, we’ve only twenty minutes left…
This is fascinating, but we should be looking at…  ¼br> Challenger Is this really the best way?
Why are we doing this?  ¼br> Bottom liner We can’t afford it.
Who’s going to do that?  ¼br> Implementer Gets on with the work
Ties up loose ends
Checks everyone knows who’s doing what  ¼br> Resource investigator Finds/obtains information, contacts and other resources  ¼br> Calming influence Helps people get along
Takes the sting out of situations
Acts as a sort of mediator  ¼br> Leader Facilitates all the roles, like the conductor of an orchestra¼br> Adapted and developed from Morris et al. (1995)
Margaret Roberts was turned down by ICI when she was a graduate. Sir Harvey-Jones was not responsible for rejecting the now Baroness Thatcher, but he suggests it might be because she would not have made the compromises necessary to be a team player.
Industrial Society (1998)
Ideas people may be rather ‘up in the air’, so their role needs to be balanced by the challenger and the bottom liner who tend to be down-to-earth people. There may be friction between these people, which is where the calming influence comes in. So the various roles complement each other.

Complementary roles

Eales-White’s ‘team strength circle’ shows a range of team roles at different levels. Drive, analysis, harmony and creativity are the four broad roles.
[Figure 2.1] Team strength circle

Eales-White (1996)
Each of these broad roles is based on a pair of complementary roles. So the overall role of driving the team combines the roles of implementer and focuser.
At the next level, the four roles are producing, directing, problem solving and connecting.  Again, each of these roles depends on a combination of subsidiary roles. So problem solving requires both innovation (to come up with ideas) and evaluation (to find the best idea).
Notice that some of these roles duplicate the ones in the table, while some are new. There’s no hard and fast rule about roles needed – they vary with each team.

 Now do this
Think about the roles your team needs. You’ll get ideas from both the table above and the team strength circle. Every team is different so you need to work out the roles your team needs for yourself.
Make a list of the roles your team needs, and tick whether or not these roles are present in your team at the moment.
Roles needed in my team Present Missing 

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