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Teamwork Exercise: Discussion of Roles and Responsibilities

Introduction

A critical issue that can impede the success of teams is a lack of clarity regarding the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of the various agencies and/or individuals who compose its membership. This exercise is designed to assist team members to understand more fully their own roles and responsibilities in relationship to the work of the team, and to provide them with an opportunity to share their expectations about the roles and responsibilities of others.

Because it can be difficult to understand fully the distinction between a role and a responsibility, please keep the following definitions in mind as you move through this exercise.

Generally speaking, there are two types of roles that team members may have. There are formal roles, which are the essential parts or positions that must be filled in order to collectively accomplish the goals of a project or team, and there are also informal roles, which may or may not be required in order to achieve the team’s goals, but that can have an impact—either positive or negative —on the progress of the team.

When we refer to formal roles, we are describing essentially “who” is responsible for “what.” Formal roles are absolutely essential for the success of the team. Obviously, if individual team members do not know what they are expected to do, it is highly unlikely that anything will get done. Again, a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities is one of the primary reasons that teams fail to produce results. In addition, it is unlikely that members will continue to be interested or invested in a project if they do not know why they are involved or what is expected of them or the other members.

Unlike formal roles, informal roles are not assigned. Instead, they are assumed by individuals because of their personalities, motivations, individual styles and attitudes, or the ways that they like to approach situations or tasks. Just as it is important to understand or recognize the formal roles people have on a team, it is also critical to identify the informal roles played by individuals, because informal roles can have a significant impact on a team. Certain types of informal roles can enhance the overall productivity of the team, but the impact of other types of informal roles—if not addressed—can be negative and may detract from the team’s ability to function effectively. The following are examples of some of the informal roles that members play on teams.

These are just some examples of the kinds of informal roles that individuals play. The important thing to note here is that informal roles do have a significant impact—both positive and negative—on the work of teams, and it is important to identify and address those effects when necessary.

As has been emphasized, clear roles and responsibilities are critical to the ultimate success of teams. However, such clarity is not always present within collaborative teams—particularly when teams are first established, and especially if there are individuals on the team who have not worked together previously. Regardless of whether a team is newly formed or longstanding, each of the team members will have desires and beliefs about what the other members of the team could or should be doing. These beliefs are referred to as role expectations, and it is very important for members to discuss them so that there are no misunderstandings between what team members expect of one another or one another’s agencies, and what individual members perceive their own roles to be.

Exercise Purpose

Team members come from different specialties and backgrounds, and it is important that they “step outside” their professional day–to–day responsibilities and think in terms of what they can specifically contribute to the team and how each can positively improve the level of team collaboration.

This exercise allows time to discuss what individual team members believe they contribute to the team. It also provides all team members with an opportunity to comment on how they view other members’ contributions. The purpose is to clarify and agree on each member’s roles and responsibilities on the team.

Exercise Instructions