Chapter 2: Groups In Organizations

2.2 Group Role Types

If all the world is a stage, then we each play distinct roles, whether we know it or not, when we are members of a group, team, family, or community. If we are aware of our roles, then we can know our lines, our responsibilities, and perform. When we do not know what we are supposed to do it is awfully hard to get the right job done correctly the first time. In this chapter we will explore the many facets to group membership.

The performance of a team or group is often influenced, if not determined, by its members’ roles.

We can start our analysis of member roles with the work of Benne and Sheats (1948). They focused on studying small discussion groups that engaged in problem-solving activities. From their observations they proposed three distinct types of roles: task, building and maintenance, and self-centered. Task roles were identified by facilitating and co-coordinating behaviors such as suggesting new ideas or ways of solving problems. Relational/ maintenance roles involved encouragement, including praise, statements of agreement, or acceptance of others and their contributions nonverbally or verbally. Individualistic/Self-centered roles involved ego-centric behaviors that call attention to the individual, not the group, and distract or disrupt the group dynamic.

Table: Group Roles

Task Roles

Initiator: propose goals, plans of action or activities

Information givver: offers facts, information, evidence, personal experiences

Information seeker: asks otehrs for racts, information evidence, personal experiences.

Evaluator-critic: analyzes suggestions for strengths and weaknesses

Clarifyer: makes ambituous statements clearer, interpretes issues

Elaborator: develops an idea previously expresed by giving examples, illustrations, explanations.

Recorder: takes notes on the group discussions, important decisions, and commitments to action

Relational/  Maintenance Roles

Supporter: Encourages everyone, making sure they have what they need to get the job done

Gatekeeper: Helps members gain the floor and have opportunities to speak.

Harmonizer: Helps manage conflict within the group, facilitating common ground, helping define terms, and contributing to consensus

Tension-releaser: Uses humor and light-hearted remarks, as well as nonverbal demonstrations (brings a plate of cookies to the group), to reduce tensions and work-related stress

Compromiser: Focuses on common ground, common points of agreement, and helps formulate an action plan that brings everyone together towards a common goal, task, or activity

Standard Setter: Sets the standard for conduct and helps influence the behavior of group members

Individualistic/Self-Centered Roles

Aggressor: Belittles other group members

Block: Frequently raises objections

Deserter: Abandons group or is very unreliable

Dominator: Demand control and attention

Recognition-seeker: Frequently seeks praise

Confessor: Uses the group to discuss personal problems

Joker or Clown: Frequent use of distracting humor, often attention-seeking behavior.

Three important points result from considering Benne & Sheets Group Role Behaviors. First, an effective group will have both task and relational/maintenance behaviors reflected in its discussions. Both of these group role types, and their behaviors, are important for groups to function effectively. Next, individuals can perform more then one group role type during a group discussion. Nimble  group members will recognize when a task related behavior might be needed (e.g., getting the group to start a process), and also recognize when a relationally oriented behavior is needed (e.g., gatekeeping to ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute). Finally, effective group role behaviors done at an inappropriate time, or to excess,  can turn into individualistic/self serving behaviors.

For example, if someone in your group always makes everyone laugh, that can be a distinct asset when the news is less than positive. At times when you have to get work done, however, the group clown may become a distraction. Notions of positive and negative will often depend on the context when discussing groups.

Just as the groupclown can have a positive effect in lifting spirits or a negative effect in distracting members, so a dominator may be exactly what is needed for quick action. An emergency physician doesn’t have time to ask all the group members in the emergency unit how they feel about a course of action; instead, a self-directed approach based on training and experience may be necessary. In contrast, the pastor of a church may have ample opportunity to ask members of the congregation their opinions about a change in the format of Sunday services; in this situation, the role of coordinator or elaborator is more appropriate than that of dominator.

The group is together because they have a purpose or goal, and normally they are capable of more than any one individual member could be on their own, so it would be inefficient to hinder that progress. But a blocker, who cuts off collaboration, does just that. If a group member interrupts another and presents a viewpoint or information that suggests a different course of action, the point may be well taken and serve the collaborative process. If that same group member repeatedly engages in blocking behavior, then the behavior becomes a problem. A skilled communicator will learn to recognize the difference, even when positive and negative aren’t completely clear.

Key Takeaway

  • Group members perform distinct roles that impact and influence the group in many ways.

Exercises

  1. Think of a group of which you are currently a member. Create a list of the members of your group and see if you can match them to group roles as discussed in this section. Use describing words to discuss each member. Share and compare with classmates.
  2. Think of a group of which you are no longer a member. Create a list of the members of the group and see if you can match them to group roles as discussed in this section. Use describing words to discuss each member. Share and compare with classmates.

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Organizational Communication by Whatcom Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.