Benne and Sheats group roles theory distinguish three categories and 26 roles, which can be taken on by one or multiple people within a group.
This article describes the Benne and Sheats group roles in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition and basics of this powerful leadership and group dynamics tool.
What are the Benne and Sheats Group Roles?
Every organisation involves departments and teams, and it’s not always easy to predict how relationships between team members will turn out. After all, interpersonal relationships are often complex. Having highly skilled employees with skills that perfectly suit their roles and tasks doesn’t necessarily mean collaboration will go smoothly. When creating teams, it will become clear that there are many different group roles. American educational philosopher Kenneth D. Benne and American professor of pedagogy Paul Sheats studied what they believed to be the different group roles and wrote and published the article ‘Functional Roles of Group Members’ in 1940. In this article, they defined 26 different roles, which can be taken on by one or multiple people within a group.
In many cases, even though a team may consist of skilled employees, mutual collaboration will not always be successful. Instead, a team will only be successful if a right balance is found between the various roles in combination with the right skills.
This is the key factor in team members’ interaction and how they relate to each other. It also determines how successful they operate as a team. The way in which team members behave will vary; some will be helpful and supportive, whereas others may create division within the group. Using Benne and Sheats’ group roles, one can distinguish three categories and 26 roles:
- Task Roles
- Personal and/or Social roles
- Dysfunctional and/or Individualistic roles
Task roles relate to the actual execution of the work and associated tasks. What has to be done to initiate and complete a project? They include all roles that are required to carry out a project step by step. According to Benne and Sheats, there are 12 different task roles.
1. Initiator (also contributor)
This person actively contributes to the work and proposes original ideas or identifies unique ways of achieving the final goal. The initiator creates discussion and allows the team to explore new domains and possibilities.
2. Information Seeker
This person tracks down all the necessary information relating to a specific project. He also ensures this information ends up in the right place. He seeks clarification and aims to shed light on the facts. In case of missing information, he will do anything he can to find it.
3. Information Giver
The information seeker is also often the information giver; he communicates the information to his team. He is considered an authority when it comes to information and knows exactly what is and isn’t relevant.
4. Opinion Seeker
Within the Benne and Sheats group roles, this is often an opinionated team member who will seek clarity and the opinions of others.
5. Opinion Giver
This person does not mince his words and will quickly give his opinion on matters. This may lead to irritation among other team members. The opinion giver has an important role, however. He points out matters that others are afraid to touch upon. In other words, his opinion can be very valuable.
This person is able to explore and expand upon the ideas of others. Although the ideas he works on may not necessarily lead to new insights, in certain cases they may provide opportunities to bring the team to a higher level.
This person identifies the different ideas present in the team and makes underlying connections. He brings the various ideas together.
This person evaluates and clarifies the position of the team. He does this by summarising interim achievements, so that the team knows their position on the path towards the end goal exactly.
9. Evaluator (also Critic)
This person evaluates proposals as objectively as possible. He is critical and doesn’t avoid discussions.
This is the most vital person in the team according to the Benne and Sheats group roles. He is able to motivate and encourage others to persevere. He remains motivated and focused on the end goal and inspires others with his enthusiasm.
11. Procedural Technician
This person ensures all the necessary preconditions are present. For example, think of a working Skype connection for a conference call, materials for a brainstorming session, and the room and facilities for an afternoon meeting. His activities facilitate team discussion.
This person records everything that is said and writes ideas and appointments down on paper, so that every team member is aware of what has been discussed.
Personal and/ or Social Roles
Interpersonal relationships within a team influence the team’s success. The various roles contribute to the positive functioning of a team. If the mutual ties are positive, and team members respect each other, positive results should follow. However, if there are conflicts, this will negatively affect the end results. In this category, Benne and Sheats distinguish 6 roles.
As the name suggests, this person encourages the rest of the team. He stimulates and motivates others in both a natural and pleasant way. He supports his team members in the efforts they make.
This person aims to resolve or avoid (potential) conflicts or underlying tensions within the group. He finds harmony important and may use humour to maintain this.
In the event of opposing opinions and interests, this person aims to find a compromise for the benefit of the entire team. He talks to various parties and his goal is to pull everyone together. The interest of the group is always paramount.
4. Gatekeeper (also Expediter)
This person manages the communication flow and ensures all team members are given the opportunity to provide input. He also encourages quieter team members to express their thoughts and ideas.
5. Observer (also Commentator)
According to the Benne and Sheats group roles, this person is able to examine the group from a distance and provide feedback based on his observations.
Although quiet, this person is definitely a valuable team member. He follows the rest of the team and accepts what others say and decide. He is more of a listener rather than someone who constantly provides input.
Dysfunctional and/or Individualistic Roles
These roles disrupt the progress of the team and undermine collaboration. As soon as one or more team members fulfil such a role, the team dynamics will shift. In this category, Benne and Sheats distinguish 8 roles.
This person is often condescending to others and tries to sabotage ideas. He attacks team members directly with offensive remarks, undermining the group atmosphere.
This person will always bring up issues with others’ ideas. His input is hardly constructive, and he resists the opinions of other group members. As a result, with a blocker in the team, the end result will be difficult to achieve. Team members will usually have difficulty dealing with such a person.
3. Recognition Seeker
This person is an individualist and always seeks to attract personal attention during team meetings. He boasts about his achievements and constantly aims to be the centre of attention.
This person is somewhat similar to the recognition seeker and uses team meetings as a way to bring up his personal feelings and problems. He relates everything to himself and is therefore an obstacle on the road to the end goal.
5. Disrupter (also Playboy)
This person believes team meetings are an excellent opportunity to distract others from their work and disrupt proceedings. He tries to steal the show, tells jokes, and is somewhat entertaining. However, he contributes nothing to the end goal.
This person wants to take the lead, control team meetings, and determine other team members’ tasks. He claims to have a lot of knowledge of subjects and always seems to have better solutions than others. His word is law.
7. Help Seeker
This person seeks sympathy and/or pity from his team members. He acts helplessly and likes to play the victim role.
8. Special Interest Pleader
This person makes suggestions based on what he assumes others think and feel. He speaks in general terms and never betrays his own (pre-)judgments, views, and opinions.
Application Benne and Sheats group roles
For organisations, it is important to understand the various types of roles that may exist within a team. Using this knowledge, one can make decisions to get the right people in the right places. Benne and Sheats note that team roles may vary. This is partly related to the group development phase. The following steps can help towards creating a diverse group:
Step 1: determine the group phase
By being aware of the current group phase, one can more easily evaluate whether there are dysfunctional and/or individualistic roles that disrupt proceedings.
Step 2: determine suitable roles
For example, a new team may benefit from a Recorder or Procedural Technician. The aforementioned Evaluator and Energiser are not (yet) required in this situation. Each phase requires a unique set of roles. By discussing alternatives and analysing which tasks team members are going to carry out, specific roles can be decided.
Step 3: recruitment of missing roles
Here it is determined whether there are any gaps in terms of group formation. For instance, one may actively start looking for missing roles and new roles may even be developed. The more flexible the team members, the better. If flexible, they’ll be willing to take on different roles and adapt. A flexible group structure allows for maximum contribution to the team.
Step 4: identify dysfunctional roles
After identifying dysfunctional and/or individualistic roles, it’s possible to start to eliminate them. In other words, team members that fulfil such roles must be held accountable for their behaviour. This will make them aware of their negative contribution, as a result of which they may start improving their behaviour.
Step 5: regular evaluation
Through regularly evaluation, the team remains alert of each other’s activities. Groups are constantly in flux; roles change and new people join or others leave. Constant evaluation ensures maximum results.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? Are the Benne and Sheats Group Roles applied within your organisation or do you use other methods to define group roles?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Benne, K. D., & Sheats, P. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of social issues, 4(2), 41-49.
- Farris, G. F. (1972). The effect of individual roles on performance in innovative groups. R&D Management, 3(1), 23-28.
- Mudrack, P. E., & Farrell, G. M. (1995). An examination of functional role behavior and its consequences for individuals in group settings. Small Group Research, 26(4), 542-571.
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