Every team member has an official role, one that’s tied to task and expertise. It’s why you’re there. 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,” says CCL’s Laura Quinn.

Blocker Roles

Are you a blocker? A negative factor, weighing the team down? 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, can be overly critical.
  • The Recognition Seeker. Uses the group to boost her ego.
  • The Self-Confessor. Unloads personal woes, uses the group for sympathy.
  • The Fun Seeker. Is uninvolved in the task, 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 or a sign that your career is going to tank,” says Quinn.

Perhaps you are blocking progress in one team, but play 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 overloaded you might slow down team progress by disengaging or agreeing with everything just to make life easy in the short term.

Activator Roles

Team activator roles are those that move the team in positive directions. 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.

Talking Team Roles

Being aware of your habitual behaviors allows you to choose your actions in the team. Pull back on your blocker roles and take on more positive ones. Learn and see what happens.

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 all of them to identify the activator and blocker roles they typically play.

“This process usually leads to a rich discussion about strengths and challenges of the team,” says Quinn. “It may be an intense conversation or take a more light-hearted tone, but identifying these roles will open the door for team members to gently confront one another when their blocker roles emerge.”

Look for more “Leading Teams” tips and activities in upcoming issues of Leading Effectively.

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