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Defining Team Roles: The Missing Link In Creating Winning Teams In Corporate Teamwork

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All across the world corporate executives, managers, and employees are looking out the windows of their offices thinking about team work. How can we develop new teambuilding trainings? How do we implement a new team? How do we disassemble a current team? How can I highlight my attributes in a team setting? In today's workplace, teamwork has become an epidemic, or a cure all for corporate problems. Because of its popularity in today's corporate environment, employers are adding teambuilding into their handbooks, orientations, and trainings; while employees are incorporating team building skills into their resumes. According to Carroll Lachnit's (2001) article, Training Proves its Worth, corporations spend between from $221 to $252 per employee on training. But if teamwork is so important, are teams being frequently overused and poorly designed, resulting in failure? Teams fail because many corporate team leaders ignore the importance of team roles. They fail to realize that a team must do several things in order for it to be successful. Various team roles are needed to highlight one another, in turn creating an effective team. Unfortunately, corporations around the world are rushing into the popularity of team dynamics without realizing the importance of defining team roles and incorporating those roles into their daily operations.

In order for a team to be successful team roles need to be understood and redefined to fit today's corporations. Some define (Biddle, as cited in Fulmer, Ingrid, Hollenback, Murray & Stewart, 2005) roles as a set of behaviors that are interrelated with repetitive activities of others and characteristic of the person in a particular setting. From this definition it can be seen that roles are a combination of interactions between team members that result in teamwork. Team roles are also defined as being a single role for a single member. However, in today's changing workplace team roles should be flexible positions. In 2006, Vivien Martin reported that workplace objectives are accomplished today through "networks, partnerships and project groups with frequently changing memberships and with team members taking multiple roles" (Vivien, 2006, Team and roles section). The rule that team roles should be for one member is outdated; with the incorporation of clear team roles, anyone can take leadership. Once team roles are understood and redefined in the context of today's workplace, many benefits can be reaped by corporations implementing winning teamwork into their daily operations.

Overall research has concluded that corporate workplace teams can be benefited by including team members that fit well together. As noted by Katz and Kahn (cited by Fulmer et al., 2005) roles are seen as "the major means for linking the individual and organizational levels of research and theory..." There are many additional benefits for incorporating team roles in the workplace. Defining roles create winning team members, and winning team members create winning teams. Vivien (2006) noted that winning team members benefit teams and corporations in many ways. Winning team members harmonize team roles with organizational needs, they develop responsibility and trust. The most important characteristic of winning team members that Vivien (2006) noted was the ability for members to share their opinions and suggestions without the fear of being ridiculed or belittled. In order to create winning teams, corporations today should embrace the implementation of team roles; however certain strategies should be in place for that implementation to be successful.

Team leaders have researched many methods for incorporating team roles into their corporate environment. Through this research two major methods have stood out: Meredith Belbin's nine team roles and Glenn Parker's Team Player Survey. Meredith Belbin (1993), after a nine year study of managers around the globe, identified nine team roles with corresponding strengths and weaknesses and provided an assessment for team members to determine their role. The nine roles include the coordinator, shaper, implementer, plant, resource, monitor, specialist, team worker, and completer. In 1997, Bobby Watkins, and Monica Sweet wrote an article entitled Sailing with Belbin where they conducted a study of seven undergraduates who participated in teamwork activities based on Belbin's team role theory to identify strengths and weaknesses of each role in collaboration with appropriate task assignments. Watkins and Sweet (1997) concluded that the need for the students to have "role balance" and the importance of the project resulted in members to change their "natural" roles because they were dedicated to putting "the task and team needs ahead of their individual needs". The testing team commented that they greatly benefited from utilizing Meredith Belbin's team role theory. This case study proves the theory that defined roles are not meant to put individuals into a box, but to encourage winning team members and winning teams.

Another strategy for implementing team roles into corporate workplace is Glenn M. Parker's Team Player Survey. Glenn Parker is a consultant/trainer who is known for his work with start-up and ongoing teams. According to Glenn Parker's official website The Parker Team Player Survey (PTPS) helps individuals identify their team player style, assess current strengths, and create a plan for increasing effectiveness as a team player. Parker defines four team roles (Table 2); the contributor, collaborator, communicator, and challenger. In 1994 Jean Kirnan, and Diane Woodruff conducted a study entitled Reliability and validity estimates of the Parker team player survey. The study provided evidence the proved the reliability of all four team styles. The study also showed that when the implemented, "slacking" team members were reduced by 47 percent. Team members found a sense of ownership for their tasks and their teams. However, no matter which strategy chosen to introduce team roles into to teams, there are some challenges to consider before implementation.

The main challenge corporations may encounter when attempting to introduce roles into workplace teamwork is that some team members will avoid adding input outside of the roles, fearing that it is another person's responsibility (McCrimmon, 1995). This can be counteracted, noted by Belbin (cited by Pichard & Stanton, 1999), by allowing team members to have two roles; a functional role and a team role. The functional role is determined by a member's professional and technical expertise. To illustrate, would a team leader tell an accountant not to input on accounting decisions because he or she was not given that particular

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