Take a Moment
- Should team members have specific roles?
- What roles are they and why do you think that?
Considering a Team
Much like a chess set, teams are a collection of individuals who possess different capabilities so that together they can combine to achieve something that an individual working alone cannot. In some cases they are people with individual capabilities, unique among their fellow team members, just as the chess pieces: King, and Queen are unique. In other cases they have the same essential capability but are made different by their focus. For instance one pawn is the same as another but the scope of each is constrained by its position on the board. Thus, due to their position each has a specific role.
Similarly each member of a team performs a different role as their contribution to the achievement of the team’s purpose. Those contributions must be clear to the individual concerned and everyone else in the team. If they are not clear then confusion and conflict will arise as team members either try to do the same thing or let things drop down the cracks between them. Either way the resultant dysfunction can cause a complete failure of the team to achieve its purpose.
In an organisational setting, individuals may be members of several teams playing different roles in each. So not only are crystal clear roles essential to minimise confusion and conflict in the team, they may well be needed to enable individuals to remember the appropriate role in each team.
Kinds of Team Roles
From this perspective, generically there are three kinds of team role: functional or technical, formal and general.
Functional Team Roles
Functional team roles are about the functional or technical expertise of the individual team members. Many teams are cross-functional and as such are a set of people brought together because of the functional or technical contributions they can make to achieve the team’s purpose. Most times the capabilities of the individuals will be clearly different and it’s easy to define their roles. In some cases, like the two Bishops on the chess board, people may have interchangeable capabilities but their role is defined by some other factor. Just as one Bishop can only occupy white squares and the other black squares, these people will each have a different and specifically defined focus.
Formal Team Roles
Formal team roles are not related to functional or technical capability but rather the qualities that emerge from character, strengths, skills and experience. They include roles required to allow the team to operate as a team such as: team leader, administrator, meeting facilitator and so on. It is critical that these roles are agreed not only by the individual who fulfils them but the whole team.
Care needs to be exercised to ensure that the best equipped person in the team is asked to fill such roles. This means that the leaders must know their people. One’s mind is drawn back to the JoHari Window model in the earlier module – Leading with Insight. Selection of team members to fulfil formal roles needs to be done on the basis of matching the qualities required of the job with qualities of the individuals available. For instance the best meeting facilitator may not be the most senior manager in the team. This is why discussion, consensus and agreement are essential.
General Team Roles
General team roles are really about the roles team members play in activities such as conflict resolution, problem solving, conducting meetings, process improvement, performance monitoring, initiating activities and the like. They are about how team members participate in the general interactions of the team and how the team works cooperatively. These roles are ‘general’ because they are needed for any team to be effective and because in some ways they represent the ground rules of the team.
Special Team Perspectives
Specific views on team member roles, such as Belbin Team Types and Inscape’s Team Dimension Inventory, come into play in the formal and general kinds of team role. Belbin and Team Dimensions are not simply about the needs of team but about the contributions that individual team member can make. We will briefly examine both of these team role schemes a little later in this lesson.
Division of Labour
In every team sport individual team members have specific roles to play. Their purpose is to win the competition which requires them to win each match. To do this each team member must execute his assigned task. Imagine a soccer team in which there is no striker, no one to score the goals, or a Goal keeper who insists on being the striker! Between them lie the defensive players whose job is to make sure the goal keeper has an easy time and the midfield players whose job is to feed the ball to the striker. These players also have other tasks, such as marking specific members of the other team and make them ineffective in the game. The actual tasks differ dependent upon the opposition.
The division of labour within a team is critical and it is achieved as a deliberate act. It is about deploying the functional, formal and general capabilities of team members in the most effective and synergistic way. The aim is to play to the strengths of the team members, it’s why they were chosen, or at least it should have been.
The scope of the roles that emerge from the division of labour must cover ALL the required team operations, leaving no gaps and discontinuities to hinder progress. The best solution will not happen by accident, in fact a division of labour that just happens will almost inevitably be the cause of the team’s failure.
Functionally the division of labour may be straight forward as it’s about the functional and technical competencies of individuals.
Formal and general role assignments may not be so straight forward. However, in all cases there may be factors and hidden skills that mean the obvious assignments are not the best assignments from the team perspective. Therefore, this process needs to be carried out by the team in an environment where they can freely discuss the needs of the task, the roles that are required and their individual capabilities. In the next module – Leading Through Relationships we will look at an approach to these and similar types of team conversation which can help teams be effective in the outcome of meetings.
There is always one final question: Challenge the process – “Is there a way we can arrange this better?”
Team Role Qualities
From years of experience there are five qualities that Pat MacMillan recommends to be kept in mind when planning team roles. They need to be:
There is a common understanding shared by the team.To avoid confusion and the conflict that would otherwise result, each team member must be clear about their own roles and the roles of all other team members. The leader must provide an opportunity for the team to verify their clarity. This may need to be reviewed over time.
There are no gaps left, everything is accounted for.
It’s essential that the defined and assigned roles cover every aspect of the task and operation of the team. If they don’t, activities and deliverables will fall between the cracks and lead to team failure. If you have watched a tennis doubles match you will have seen the times when the ball shoots between the two players of one team because each thought the other would get the ball. The risk of this happening needs to be minimised.The problems will arise in the areas that were never discussed, so specifically check the interactions between team members and make sure they know who does what and when. Dummy run the team’s processes in a workshop to make sure they really work and the role assignments are complete. Look out for what happens when things go wrong. The natural thing is to consider how things should work when it all goes well. This is only the first part of the task. The second part is to consider how things work when something goes wrong. So, identify the potential issues and test the roles against those issues, modifying them as needed.
Play to team members strengthsRoles simply need to match the individual strengths and capabilities of team members. The leader needs to get to know his people and give them opportunity to share what their strengths and capabilities are. You may be pleasantly surprised.
The defined roles work together.Make sure that no role gets in the way of another role, preventing it from completing its task.
Everyone in the team must buy-in to the plan.Team members need to agree with who does what. As mentioned several times, the obvious assignment of roles may not be the best that can be achieved. If it isn’t then the team will not achieve exceptional performance. The Christ-centred servant leader will check this out because his goal is that each team member should achieve their full potential. Ask the “Can we do this better?” question.
It’s Our Job
There are two common attitudes to be found in an organisation “That’s my job – hands off” and “That’s their job – leave it to them.” Neither are helpful in a team.
In a team that is aligned and pulling together, everyone is committed to the journey and sees the purpose of the team as their job. The attitude is “It’s ALL or job!” The division of labour is a convenience to enable the team to achieve. Team members identify with the team and recognise that no one’s job is done until the whole of the team’s job is done.
Unhelpful individualistic attitudes result in some people being overloaded, some people never delivering on time and some people having too little to do.
The team attitude that “It’s ALL or job!” leads to another question: “How can I help?” and a response that is to pitch in and help, having first agreed what needs to be done. This is one of the roots of exceptional performance and stems from ownership and commitment. This is a manifestation of the servant heart that the Christ-centred team member needs to develop. This works contrary to accepted attitudes about responsibility.
The Team Risk
With the division of labour in a team comes risk because now every team member is dependent upon every other team member. No individual can succeed alone, they succeed together as a team or not at all.
The mitigation for this risk, as we discussed earlier, is trust.
For others to have trust in me I must demonstrate competence and integrity. “I can do what I say I can and I will do what I say I will.” It is the Christ-centred servant leader’s task to encourage and develop this trust within the team. Where this trust exists then team members will choose to cooperate. Where it does not exist they will fly solo in an attempt to mitigate the risk to their own success and the effectiveness of the team will crumble.
Essential to developing the required level of trust are well designed and properly assigned team roles. Only where these align with the assigned team members strengths and abilities are they able to do what they say they will. Poorly designed team roles, with cracks between them, will make the incumbent look incompetent, destroy trust and erode cooperation between team members.
Take a Moment
- Reflect upon your team
- Are the roles well defined with no gaps? Consider all three types of role.
- Is the team playing to its strengths?
- To what extent do team members stick to their own jobs or do they all own the whole job.
- How can the team do better?
Take a Moment
- Review and reflect on the seven practices of a Christ-centred servant leader that we looked at in the last lesson.
- How would they workout for you, as you seek to help the team develop Crystal Clear Roles?