Hobbling down a cobblestone street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, her hand pressed firmly to her lower back, Catherine is clearly struggling with her first treasure hunt experience — and boy is she not happy about it! Her boss Steve — far, far ahead – is setting a breakneck pace, so intent is he on solving the next clue and leading his team to a morning victory. At last the lunch break arrives and, not surprisingly, all hell breaks loose! Catherine is spitting nails with Steve for driving the team so hard as to ignore her ongoing recovery from recent back surgery. Steve is hight on the defensive, declaring he was only pushing everyone so hard for the sake of team motivation and performance.

What has gone wrong here, and how can it be resolved?

Fortunately for the team, there’s the level-headed Mona. Stepping into the fray, Mona suggests a clever compromise — “After lunch, let’s hire a horse and buggy carriage for the afternoon session. That way continue the hunt AND spare Catherine grievous injury.” Steve and Catherine grudgingly accept the solution and the day (and the relationships) are salvaged (at some financial hardship to Steve!) Thank goodness for Mona, in her role as “Harmonizer.”

Over the 18+ years I’ve been facilitating teambuilding programs, I’ve become fascinated by the roles people play within teams. Quite simply, you can bring together all the skills, talent and resources in the world, but if you don’t have the right “role” players on your team, your teams just doesn’t reach a high performance level.

So what are the key roles people must play in teams?

I posed this question to master trainer Pete Grazier of Canton, Ohio. He pointed me to at least three main role categories:

Group Task Roles
Group Maintenance and Building Roles
Individual Roles

There are, in other words:

1) Roles that pertain to achieving the job task

2) Roles that relate to keeping the human relationships in order and

3) Roles that people take on in an effort to meet their own individual needs, often contrary to role or team needs.

Group Task Roles
In a Dr. Clue treasure hunt, for example, the suggested “Job Titles” are Facilitator, Map Keeper, Time Keeper, and Photographer. (I also ask people to assign a Safety Monitor!) But assigning “duties” isn’t quite enough. A number of “non-official” task roles must also emerge if the team is really going to achieve its task.

Some examples of Group Task Roles are:

THE INITIATOR: Suggesting new ideas, solutions and proposals

THE INFORMATION SEEKER: Checking the factual adequacy of information; picking up others’ ideas and developing them

THE ANALYZER: Judging the different factors, thinking things through thoroughly

THE SUMMARIZER: Pulling together and summarizing the group’s ideas

THE RECORDER: Writing down the group’s suggestions and decisions and acting as “group memory.”

THE COORDINATOR: Causing others to work together toward a common goal

I’m sure you all can come up with many more task roles as well.

Group Maintenance and Building Roles

A treasure hunt team will never solve its clues and reach all the clue locations unless it has at least a few team members who are focused on keeping people “group-centered.”

Some examples of Group Building and Maintenance Roles are:

THE ENCOURAGER: Praising, agreeing with and accepting contributions of others

THE HARMONIZER: Mediating differences between others and relieving tension

THE COMPROMISER: Accepting compromise from within his/her own conflict situation in order to move the group along.

THE ENERGIZER: Revving people up and providing humor and enthusiasm

The most successful teams possess a healthy balance of Group Task role players and Group Maintenance role players. Imagine, for a second, a team made up entirely of “Task-Masters”—people highly directed towards achieving their goal, at whatever cost. I’ve seen many of these teams over the years, so skilled and so driven, but lacking the ability to maintain group commitment and cohesiveness. In such groups, tempers eventually flare , especially when people go off on their own hard-driving agendas. On the flip side, imagine now a team of “Maintenance-Mavens”—people content to move along happily, with ample good spirits and collegiality, enjoying each other but not really making much progress toward the group’s goals.

Individual Roles

Both of the role categories above – Group Task Roles & Group Maintenance and Building Roles – when in balance, tend to support and sustain a well-functioning team. The Individual Roles, however, do just the opposite; they throw the team off track, interfering both with group harmony and task completion.

Some examples of Individual Roles are:

THE AGGRESSOR: Deflating others’ status, attacking the group, asserting that “The right answer is…”

THE BLOCKER: Resisting, disagreeing, and consistently choosing a negative approach

THE RECOGNITION SEEKER: Calling attention to himself, boasting, and reporting on personal achievements.

THE CLASS CLOWN: Goofing around, engaging in horseplay, maintaining a consistently cynical and non-serious stance.

THE HELP SEEKER: Expressing insecurity and personal confusion, attempting to call forth “sympathy”

THE RAMBLER: Taking the conversation off on wild tangents, missing meetings, telling jokes that go on too long.

When your team is dominated by Individual Role players, mired in their own negative behavior patterns, you certainly have yourself a problem. Confrontation, mediation, and the rewarding of positive behavior are all in order, to varying degrees. In some cases, you may even need to ask certain people to leave the group. Individual needs cannot, of course, be discounted; They are part of the equation. But in order for a team to be fully effective, the needs of the team do need to take precedence over the need of any one person.

So, are YOU a Harmonizer or an Aggressor? Energizer or Class Clown? Encourager or Recognition Seeker?


Here’s your Assignment (if you choose to accept it):

Look at all the roles above, and ask yourself “What role(s) do I tend to play when I’m part of a team?” Be brutally honest with yourself. And then, if you’re feeling even more courageous, ask a few of your current or former teammates if they agree or disagree with your personal assessment. Good luck…and whatever feedback you receive, remember to “role” with it!