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August 2018
Eric Baker from Caliper Corporation explains how understanding team roles can improve team results

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Understanding team roles can improve team results

A business team is a strange entity. You can gather all the right experts and specialists, put all the accountabilities in place, and even set the ground rules for how to manage meetings and handle conflict … and still end up with dysfunction.

Given the increasing importance of cross-functional teamwork across all industries, it has never been more important for organizations to figure out what’s working and what isn’t and to take steps toward improving team efficiency and effectiveness. If you really want the results you’re looking for, take the time to explore and define team roles.

Team roles are different from assignments. Each team member has an agreed-upon set of responsibilities, of course, but team roles are organic and relate to the “health” of the team as an entity. An unhealthy team is one where people are continuously frustrated or are struggling to deliver, and the results suffer accordingly. Fortunately, this (metaphorical) illness can be cured when people are placed into the team roles for which they are best suited. Those roles include ChampionCreatorImplementer, and Facilitator. Let’s look at each in turn:

Champion – These are the people who promote ideas, rally the group, and drive change. They tend to focus on the big-picture goals. Without them, teams often lack vision and direction.

Creator – Creators generate ideas, design solutions, and welcome creative challenges. They tend to be about action rather than talk, and a team without Creators may struggle to deliver innovation.

Implementer – When it comes to the daily work activities and administration required to make good on team objectives, Implementers have it covered. Their responsibilities might not always be glamourous, but everything falls apart without them.

Facilitator – Teams are made up of people with different mindsets and approaches that can come into conflict. Facilitators are the glue that holds things together; they manage relationships within the team and externally, and they make sure people have the required support.

Your team role is determined by a combination of your thinking style (divergent vs. convergent) and work focus (people vs. tasks). This graphic helps visualize it. Do you have a sense of where you might fit?

Divergent thinkers tend to approach problems creatively (“What are all the possible solutions?”), whereas convergent thinkers are inclined to approach problems logically (“What’s the ideal solution?”). Divergent thinkers are usually more inventive. Convergent thinkers are typically more efficient at making practical decisions.

When you combine divergent thinking with a people orientation, you’ll get the Champion described above. Switch out people orientation with a task orientation, and you’ll get a Creator. And so on.

These distinctions are critical to several aspects of team effectiveness:

  • If a team has too many of one team role and not enough of another, the team has a talent gap. Depending on the gap, you may lack a rallying voice and a vision (not enough Champions); struggle to meet complex business challenges and adapt to change (not enough Creators); fall short of quality expectations and leave loose ends (not enough Implementers); or break off into less collaborative factions (not enough Facilitators).
  • If people are in the wrong roles (Creators having to act as Facilitators, for example), those team members will not be playing to their strengths and could be both unhappy and ineffectual.
  • If you are aware of your role and what you bring to the team, and discover others’ roles and what they bring, it becomes easier to understand where people are coming from and the value they offer.

That last point is relevant even if the first two have already been addressed (i.e., your team is balanced and everyone is serving in their ideal role). An Implementer, by nature, is about process and systems and is often immersed in spreadsheets and files and schedules, perhaps looking at Champions and thinking, “That person does a lot of talking. Meanwhile, I’m doing all the work.”

At the same time, the Champion is busy seeking organizational commitment and negotiating for budgets and resources without realizing how the agreements and compromises they make could lead to upheaval and additional work. By seeking a more meaningful understanding of each other’s roles, both the Champion and the Implementer can act more responsibly and respectably. The same goes for Creators and Facilitators and other combinations of roles. Ultimately, it’s about improving team health through self-awareness and learning how to meet in the middle.   

Based on each team member’s unique blend of personality traits, they’ll land somewhere on the convergent/divergent scale in regard to thinking style and somewhere between task oriented and people oriented in terms of work approach. The next step is finding a way to use that information for improving team effectiveness.

Plot your entire team into quadrants on the 4-Box, enabling you to see the breakdown of Champions, Creators, Implementers, and Facilitators. It also shows your group’s distributions in thinking styles, people skills, and task focus as well as individual team members’ strengths and limitations in those areas.

This report can be a revelation for your team. Not only do you see what’s missing overall (too few people in one quadrant, for example, or too many in another), but you also discover which team members are in the wrong roles. Once the nuances of the results become clear, you’ll also notice the differences, within a quadrant, between people who plot in the extreme corner and people who land near a line between two quadrants.

The insights you gain from identification and analysis of team roles can be the key that unlocks the door to true collaboration and teamwork. You’ll come up with better solutions, improve employee engagement, and finally address your most challenging business needs.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at www.calipercorp.com. Email editorial@mhwmag.com to contact Caliper.
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