Although effective teams are generally small — no larger than a dozen and often smaller than that — there are nine roles that a prudent leader will try to cover in assembling his or her team, according to Stephen R.* Robbins. They are:

  • Creator-innovator — initiates creative ideas; typically independent, prefers to work at own pace in own way.
  • Explorer-Promoter — champions ideas after they've been initiated, finding resources needed to promote innovative ideas, but may not have the patience and control skills to follow through in detail.
  • Assessor-Developer — strong analytical skills, contributes most when given options to evaluate before decision is made.
  • Thruster-Organizer — provides structure for team processes, sets up procedures, identifies goals, organizes people and establishes systems to assure that deadlines are met.
  • Concluder-Producer — provides direction, follow through; deadline conscious, strives to achieve a regular output to a standard.
  • Controller-Inspector — checks for details, highly focused on establishing and enforcing rules and regulations, finds inaccuracies, crosses every t, dots every i.
  • Upholder-Maintainer — has strong convictions, very loyal to the group, fights external battles and provides stability.
  • Reporter-Advisor — is a good listener, seeks full information, doesn't impose own views on others; contributes by encouraging more informed, less impulsive decisions.
  • Linker — understands and appreciates all views on the team, tries to coordinate and integrate team's work, dislikes extremism of any kind and works to build cooperation among team members, despite differences.

Not all roles have to be filled in every team's every task. But Robbins advises team leaders to seek out team members who naturally gravitate to two or thee of these roles. "By matching individual preferences with team role demands, managers increase the likelihood that the team members will work well together."

So consider the list of roles a handy way for a team leader to assess his or her team's strengths and weaknesses — and to remain mindful that each strength is generally bundled with a challenge to team unity. Effective leaders look for the broadest set of gifts and then work to enhance them while keeping them in a balanced tension that makes the team productive.

The common notion is that a leader is trying to achieve equilibrium. But Ludwig von Bertalanffy, author of General System Theory, noted that what's really needed in living, open systems is a "steady state of disequilibrium." That phrase reflects the healthy level of tension that necessarily accompanies any purposeful activity.

*Essentials of Organizational Behavior, 5th edition, 1984, Simon & Schuster, NY

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