A team needs to have certain functions performed in order to work effectively. Therefore, teams can improve their effectiveness if they identify these functions and decide on how they will be performed. The most common way to accomplish this task is to assemble a set of functions into a role and then decide how team members will be assigned to roles. Knowing everyone's role and being familiar with the responsibility of those roles create efficiency and flexibility.
One of the most commonly identified team roles is team leader. However, students have various mental models of leadership (for example, that a team leader supervises the other team members). Since such supervisory models conflict with the required functions of a team leader, instructors may want to label the role as team coordinator or team convener. These labels better describe the functions to be performed by the team leader who coordinates and prepares for meetings, ensures all necessary resources are available for the meetings, and guides the team through decision-making and problem-solving processes. Other useful roles are listed on the right (Possible Team Roles).
Team Exercise (Setting Roles): Once an instructor has clarified the nature and purpose of roles, asking each team to identify various team roles and describing the functions that might be performed by each role may be a useful exercise. After individual teams have tackled this task, an instructor might solicit input from various teams and lead the class toward a consensus list of roles and their definitions. In this way, the instructor can increase ownership and understanding of team roles.
Clarifying roles is always important. To clarify roles the instructor might review roles frequently, relate team members’ expectations with overall team performance, clarify responsibilities when action planning, learn what others do on the team, and figure out ways to help each other.3 An important recommendation is to have students rotate their roles and have the instructor informed on when these roles are rotated. This way, students learn more about the different responsibilities in a team, in addition to just being a team member.
Required roles depend on the length of existence of the team. For short-term teams, the following roles may be necessary: coordinator, timekeeper, encourager, gatekeeper, and recorder. For teams of four the roles of encourager and gatekeeper can be combined. For long-term teams, the following roles may be necessary: coordinator, facilitator, recorder, and timekeeper.
Possible Team Roles
Coordinator coordinates and prepares for meetings, ensures all necessary resources are available for the meetings, and guides the team through decision-making and problem-solving processes.
Recorder is responsible for doing the writing during team exercises and providing copies of said material.
Timekeeper is responsible for keeping track of time, as well as keeping the team moving so that they finish the task on target.
Encourager encourages all the other team members to actively participate and controls the verbose, dominant members.
Gatekeeper solicits input from members who are not actively contributing. Also, he/she reminds the team when they are getting off task.
Facilitator focuses on the quality of the processes that the team is using and team maintenance. A facilitator focuses on how the team is accomplishing its tasks, while other members may be focusing on performance.
Devil’s advocate takes a position opposite to that held by the team to ensure that all sides of an issue are considered. This responsibility should be undertaken by all team members. This role may be unnecessary, since many people fill this role naturally. Assigning this role may overemphasize its function.