Team dynamics or team roles are important concepts to wrap your head around if you are the one who ultimately is responsible for ensuring a team meets a deadline or specific criterion. Not understanding the dynamic of teams can literally put you behind the eight ball which could result in you scratching and losing the game. So, read on and find out how to get in front of the eight ball and keep your dignity, respect and maybe even your job.

Team roles are patterns of behavior that are characteristic of the way team members interact with another or with a single team member. Even if there is an issue between only two members of a team, the whole team will suffer from it because the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

The concept of team roles has been widely accepted and written about. One of the most noted writers on the topic is Dr. Meredith Belbin who is noted for defining nine roles that members of teams assume when working together. As a member of a professional team, your functional role is primarily the part you assume related to your position in the organization. However, it has been recognized that members of teams also play roles additional to those, which gained them admission to the team in the first place.

This is where the nine-team roles come into play as an essential part of the team mix. The roles, as defined by Belbin include:

  • Creative Team Roles: Plant and Resource Investigator
  • Leadership Roles: Shaper, Implementer and Coordinator
  • Miscellaneous Roles: Specialist, Monitor/Evaluator, Completer-Finisher and Team Worker
  • Plant: creative, imaginative, unorthodox, solves difficult problems
  • Resource Investigator: extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative, explores opportunities, develops contacts
  • Shaper: challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure, has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles
  • Implementer: disciplined, reliable, conservative and efficient, turns an idea into practical actions
  • Coordinator: mature, confident, a good chairperson, clarifies goals, promotes decision-making, delegates well
  • Specialist: single-minded, self-starting, dedicated, provides knowledge and skills in rare supply
  • Monitor/Evaluator: sober, strategic and discerning, sees all options, judges accurately
  • Completer/Finisher: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious, searches out errors and omissions
  • Teamworker: cooperative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic, listens, builds, and averts friction

Did any of these roles and descriptions jump out at you and scream, “This is me?” Often times it is difficult for an individual to accurately assess the role they play on a team because of what this author calls “team role blind spots.”

When you think of the word blind spot, what comes to mind? Was your first thought about the area of vision that motorists lose in their rearview mirrors when other cars are coming around them? The blind spot that is associated with not being able to see a car coming around you can cause a tragedy or catastrophe to occur. Most drivers have had painful adrenalin rushes caused not taking care to check their driving blind spot. This fear taught them to check their blind spot before they change lanes or turn into the path of an on-coming car.

You know a catastrophe can result if you don’t use careful driving strategies to change lanes safely. But, did you know this is also true about understanding your team role blind spo9ts)? As mentioned earlier, many of us are not the best assessor of our role on teams because we have team role blind spot(s). These are dangerous in a different way than driving blind spots. When someone does not see that the role they are taking is slowing the team down or setting up dissension among team, they are sideswiping the team. They are not aware of how their behavior is causing the team to swerve to get out of it’s ownway , in a manner of speaking. How about an example?

Take the role of “Implementer” – a team member who is disciplined, reliable, conservative and efficient, and who can turn an idea into practical actions. When you read the description of this person’s role, it sounds wonderful…and it is if applied in moderation. All teams need an Implementer or they won’t get work done. But what if the Implementer pushes the team make decisions based on the way things have always been done and to avoid making mistakes by not taking risks or changing the status quo? What if they are so resolute they create a stalemate in consensus building?

Do you see the blind spot for this – Implementer -team member? They can’t see that their fear of risk taking and making a mistake forces the team into a corner. The team can either go along with the Implementer to keep the peace thus becoming stagnate or they can go around the team member and do what they think is best anyway alienating the team member.

Neither choice is good. They are both the lesser of two evils. The better choice would be for the leader of the team to recognize there is a field of study about team dynamics and to work with the team to learn and understand how these play out in terms of their blind spots and eventual ability to operate as an effective team. When a team is open to learning, they are open for success.

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