Roles People Play in Groups
By Ann Porteus
Table of Contents
People play different roles in groups. And people play multiple roles in groups. Task roles, maintenance roles and hindering roles are all important roles for facilitators to be aware of and recognize.
Task roles refer to the actions of individuals that help move the project, decision, task along.
What: Proposing task or goals; defining a group problem; suggesting procedure or ideas for getting the task accomplished.
When: At the beginning of a meeting, when the meeting bogs down, or when the group needs direction or new direction.
How: Define the task; suggest a method or process for accomplishing the task; provide a structure for the meeting.
"It seems like we are being asked to ...",
"Does it seem like a good idea to begin by...?"
Information or Opinion Seeking
What: Requesting facts; seeking relevant information about a question or concern; asking for suggestions, ideas or opinions.
When: Problem solving, decision making, action planning, group discussion.
How: Ask for more facts; collect data; seek individual opinions, ideas and suggestions.
"What are the likely solutions?",
"Mary, what do you think of that idea?",
"What else do we need to know before we can proceed?"
What: Interpreting or reflecting ideas and suggestions; clearing up conclusions; indicating alternatives and issues before the group; giving examples, defining terms.
When: Any time the group discussion becomes too vague, too general or lacks focus; when a lot of information has been put out.
How: Ask for clarification of an example; build on the ideas of others; clarify an idea based on your understanding; try to develop timid suggestions and half stated ideas into fully developed possibilities.
"What I think I hear you saying is ___",
"Robert, can you explain your idea a bit more,"
"Cecilia, do you see how that idea relates to what Luis said earlier?"
What: Pulling together related ideas; restating suggestions after the group has discussed them; offering a decision or conclusion for the group to accept or reject.
When: At each transition in the meeting, when many different ideas or proposals are being considered, when the group gets off track; at the end of a meeting/ discussion.
How: Restate the points, decisions, action plans or common themes of the discussion; remind the group of the process or method being used.
"Let's take a minute to look at the main themes that are arising in our discussion"
"It looks like the main points being raised are ___"
"Remember that each person needs to offer a suggestion before we begin an open discussion."
What: Checking with the group to see how much agreement has been reached and how ready the group members are to consider a decision.
When: Problem solving, decision making, action planning.
How: Poll the group on an issue or decision to determine whether a consensus already exists.
"Are there any objections to using creative brainstorming to identify potential solutions for our problem?"
"Is there agreement that...?"
Maintenance roles refer to the actions of individuals that help preserve the relationships in a group.
What: Being friendly, warm, and responsive to others; accepting others and their contributions; regarding others by giving them an opportunity to contribute or be recognized.
How: Give recognition for contributions to the group, point out the accomplishments of the group.
"That was a really good suggestion, Chris. Thanks."
"We have accomplished a lot today. Thanks."
What: Attempting to reconcile disagreements; reducing tension, getting people to explore their differences.
When: When the group cannot reach consensus, when conflict of ideas, opinions or personality is preventing progress.
How: Articulate the common elements in conflicting points of view.
"What can we do to get you to support this? What can we all agree on?"
"We seem to be stuck. What can we do to move the discussion along?"
Expressing Group Feelings
What: Sensing feelings, mood, relationships within the group; sharing one's own feelings with other members.
When: When the group is having trouble making a decision, when you sense a conflict in the group, as a check-in to see how the group is doing.
How: Verbalizing what you see as the feelings, mood, tension in the group. Openly acknowledging your own feelings about what is going on in the group.
"I am sensing that there is some tension in the room. does anyone else feel it?"
"It seems like some people have withdrawn from this discussion. Is that something we need to discuss?"
What: Helping to keep communication channels open: facilitating the participation of others, suggesting procedures that permit sharing remarks.
When: Whenever you want to hear from the more silent members of the group, whenever you want to prevent a participant from dominating the discussion.
How: Ask an individual for their opinions or the information; be sensitive to the non-verbal signals indicating that people want to participate; when a person monopolizes the conversation, ask others for input
"Jeff, did you want to share something?"
"Thanks for your input, Robin. I would like to know what the rest of you think."
What: When your own ideas or status is involved in a conflict, offering a compromise which yields status; admitting error, modifying ideas in interest of group cohesion or growth.
When: When the group is stuck, when trying to make a decision and there are opposing views.
How: Offering suggestions for getting unstuck; asking the group members to figure out a compromise.
"I guess this method may not be the best for accomplishing this task. Shall we try Kim's idea?"
"I feel like we are stuck with two opposing views, what can we do to reach a compromise?"
Standard Setting and Testing
What: Checking whether the group is satisfied with its procedures; suggesting new procedures when necessary.
When: When the group first meets together, whenever the norms that are developing prevent the group from functioning effectively.
How: Help group define its ground rules; remind group of the standards they established for themselves anytime when those rules are ignored or broken.
"How do we want to operate as a group?"
"Seems like our ground rules have been forgotten. Should we take a few minutes and revisit them?"
"I just want to remind you of the ground rules we set up in the beginning."
Hindering roles refer to actions of individuals that hinder the group's process and progress.
Behavior: Asserting authority or superiority to manipulate the group or certain members; interrupting contributions of others; controlling through use of flattery or patronization.
Solution: Establish a procedure whereby each person contributes one idea to the discussion and then must wait until every other group member does the same before contributing again; interrupt the dominator, ask him/her to summarize the point quickly so that others can add their ideas, too.
"Thank you for giving us all those ideas, Erin. Let's hear from others in the group now."
Behavior: Removing self psychologically or physically from the group; not talking; answering questions only briefly.
Solution: Do not let conflicts remain unresolved; talk with the person privately to find out what is happening; direct questions to and solicit ideas from the avoider so this person stays involved.
"Carol, I have noticed that you haven't been as involved in the group lately. Is everything O.K.?"
Behavior: Putting down others' ideas and suggestions; deflating others' status; joking in a barbed or sarcastic way.
Solution: When your group first gets together, review your contract and ground rules with them, highlighting the rule that all ideas will be accepted; the first time someone criticizes another person, reinforce this rule.
"You have a point, but we need to solve our problem, not attack each other's ideas."
Behavior: Disagreeing and opposing ideas; resisting stubbornly the group's wishes for personally oriented reasons; using hidden agenda to thwart group progress.
Solution: Incorporate statements in the original guidelines that deal with cooperation and interruptions, encourage this person to explain reasons behind his/her objection; look for any aspect of the position that supports the group's ideas so that this person moves from left to center field; refocus his/her participation as a recorder or process observer; ask the group to deal with this uncooperative behavior.
"It seems like we may be forgetting the ground rules we set up as a group. Should we take a few minutes to revisit them now?" "Sandy, that is an interesting view. Could you explain how you came to those conclusions?"
Behavior: Whispering, giggling and having private side conversations with another person.
Solution: Set guidelines and expectations at the beginning of the meeting, stop the meeting and ask those involved in the side conversation to share what they are talking about with the group, stop the meeting and comment that it is difficult for you to hear the other discussion or to concentrate on the topic at hand with side conversations occurring; privately talk with the distracters and discuss their expectations for the meeting's topics; empower others to confront the distracters with how these side conversations keep everyone from concentrating on the group's discussion.
"I am having trouble focusing on the discussion with the side conversations going on. Is anyone else experiencing this?"
"It is difficult to focus on the discussion with side conversations going on. Can we agree that we will all focus on the main discussion?"
"I sense we are losing people's attention and interest, can we do a check-in to see where people are on this topic?"