Do Your Part to Advance Teamwork

Every team member has an official role tied to task and expertise. It’s why you’re on the team. But you also play informal roles that either block or propel the team.

Whether you’re a team leader or a contributor, it’s important to understand how your behavior can help or hurt team effectiveness.

Are You a Blocker?

A “blocker” team member tends to have a negative impact on the entire team, weighing everybody down and standing in the way of productivity. Use the checklist below to help you think through the negative roles you might be playing on your team:

  • The “aggressor” takes issue with people and perspectives, bulldozes, and can be overly critical.
  • The “recognition seeker” uses the group to boost her ego.
  • The “self-confessor” unloads personal woes and uses the group for sympathy.
  • The “fun seeker” is uninvolved in the task and creates tempting distractions.
  • The “manipulator” uses relationships to guide the group in a direction.
  • The “disengager” tends to check out of meetings, especially during conflict.
  • The “bouncer” moves the group in alternative directions by continually raising issues.
  • The “interrupter” disrupts others when they are making a point.
  • The “filibuster-er” stops others from participating by taking up the conversational space.
  • The “pack mule” shoulders his work and everyone else’s.
  • The “agree-er” goes along with the team to avoid conflict or tension.

If you’ve checked several blocker boxes, don’t panic. Being a blocker isn’t a permanent situation.

Perhaps you are blocking progress in one team but playing a number of positive roles on other teams. If so, take a closer look at why you struggle with one group of people. Is it the assignment? A specific person? Prior history? What’s going on and what could you change?

Maybe you realize that you routinely play a blocker role. Chances are, it’s a role that worked for you in some way before but is causing problems now. Think about how being the “fun seeker” or the “pack mule,” for example, is limiting you and limiting your team.

Or maybe you are a blocker because of circumstances. Maybe another project is demanding too much of your time and attention. If you are otherwise overloaded, you may be slowing down team progress by disengaging or agreeing with everything just to make life easy in the short term.

Are You an Activator?

An “activator” team member moves the team in a positive direction. You activate, steer, energize, and keep team processes on track. What positive activator roles do you play on your team?

  • The “observer” keeps an eye on the group dynamics and reports to the group at the end.
  • The “cheerleader” leads the team with support and appreciation discussions.
  • The “strategist” helps to create a road map for the team to achieve its goals.
  • The “brainstormer” facilitates the generation of ideas.
  • The “task master” makes sure the deliverables are achieved.
  • The “time keeper” watches the clock.
  • The “facilitator” leads the group through discussions.
  • The “conflict resolver” facilitates disagreements and ensures all are heard.
  • The “devil’s advocate” pushes the group to consider alternative approaches.
  • The “truth teller” speaks his mind even when unpopular.
  • The “dreamer” pulls members back to the dream in times of uncertainty or crisis.

Choose the Role You Play on Your Team

Being aware of your habitual behaviors allows you to choose the way you interact with your team. Pull back on your blocker roles and take on more positive ones.

While understanding your own patterns and behaviors is a starting point, team effectiveness hinges on everyone developing activator skills and limiting blocker behavior.

Participants in CCL’s Leading Teams for Impact program are encouraged to bring up the blocker/activator discussion with their teams. We suggest handing the list out to each member in a team meeting and inviting everyone to identify the activator and blocker roles they typically play.

This process usually leads to a rich discussion about team members’ strengths and challenges. It may be an intense conversation, or it could take a more lighthearted tone. Regardless, identifying these roles will open the door for team members to gently confront one another when their blocker roles emerge.

CCL’s Team Performance work combines research with real-world experience to help team leaders, intact teams, and senior leadership teams maximize performance and achieve results. Learn to zero in on specific team needs by participating in CCL’s Leading Teams for Impact program.

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