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A Toolbook for Quality Improvement and Problem Solving (contents)

Team roles

The Quality Toolbook > Teamwork > Team roles

Formal roles | Informal roles


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When teams are formed, it is normal for people to take different roles, according to their position, ability or character type. Formal roles are the external, defined positions that are associated with given responsibilities and are usually allocated according to the position or ability of each person.

Individuals in a team will also tend to adopt informal roles that depend more on their character than on any specific knowledge or position. Recognizing these behaviors can be very useful when helping the team to work together.

Formal Roles

In order for a team to work in an organized way towards their objectives, several formal roles are often allocated or decided on within the group. Although the leader is the most common role, other positions of specific responsibility can help give focus to specific activities and ensure formal tasks are completed.


The style of the group leader sets the style of how the group will operate. This style should be more participative than directive, as improvement groups often operate on a voluntary basis or where the work is outside their normal work scope. There also may be no official reporting line to the leader, who may be a peer or from another area.

A key objective of the leader is to motivate the rest of the team into having a strong focus on succeeding in their objectives. An active and effective way to achieve this is by working within the team rather than directing it from above. An important factor is that the leader should be respected by the team members, who will be willing to work together with him or her. The leader should also be clearly enthusiastic about solving the problem by using appropriate tools, rather than the less structured 'brainstorm and implement' sessions that often occur.

The leader should also have a good understanding of the improvement process being used and should be able to work closely with the facilitator.


The information gathered, minutes of meetings, output from tool use and communications inside and outside the team forms the 'group memory' of the team. If this is not recorded and organized, it can result in the team itself becoming disorganized.

The role of the recorder (or scribe or librarian) is thus to record and gather all the data and present it in a format which the team can easily understand and reference. The key skills for the recorder are a clear and concise writing style and an ability to organize information for easy access.


Measurements made during the project are seldom directly interpretable, and must be translated into an understandable format from which decision points may be identified. The analyst's key focus is on the measurement and interpretation of data to enable these decisions to be made.

The exact skills of the analyst will vary with the type of project, for example where detailed numerical measures are being made, a mathematical ability may be needed. Other projects may need an understanding of psychology, for example where the measurement is of people's opinions.


Experts in the team have specialized knowledge, for example about technical areas or key processes, and act as advisors and authorities in their field of expertise. It is important in an improvement team to either have appropriate expertise within the team or to have it readily available.

A chicken and egg situation can occur, where an expert is required to identify a problem, but the appropriate expert cannot be identified until the problem is known. This can result in the problem being circled, but not approached. The effect of this on the team is that experts may come and go, or may stay and become inappropriate people to have on the team.


The facilitator is not an actual team member, but is closely connected with the team, and especially with the team leader. This person is an expert in team dynamics and in the improvement process, and thus acts as an advisor and teacher. The facilitator never owns the problem, but does have a strong interest in the success of the group.

An effective way of allowing the facilitator to lead the team in specific activities, yet without undermining the leader's role, is for the leader to describe the objective and then to introduce the facilitator as someone who will help them achieve this. The facilitator then takes over, with the clear mandate of helping the group, whilst the leader sits with the group.

Informal roles

There are a number of models of interpersonal behavior in groups that identify specific roles that people adopt, often unconsciously. It is important that these characters get on together, as subliminal conflict, where people react emotionally to situations they do not consciously recognize, can be particularly difficult to resolve.

In practice, behavioral style may vary along a spectrum between extremes. People may also act at different positions along the spectra, depending on the situation. Nevertheless, individuals do tend towards particular groups of behaviors and if these are recognized, a cohesive and effective mix may be found in the group to enable its members to work well together. A typical set of behavioral styles are as follows.

Social style: Self versus Group

It is natural to consider ones own opinions and feelings as important, and many people are largely self-based in their thinking. However, people get on together by also thinking about others, and a person who is more group-based will consciously aim to bring the group together as a harmonious whole.

People with strong self-image may tend towards a leadership role, but unless they also consider the people in the team and the group as a whole, there is a danger of them becoming dictatorial, turning the focus away from the problem and onto personalities.

In effective groups, team members feel able to contribute their own ideas, but also take seriously the thoughts of others and work towards an agreeable solution. It is an important role of the leader to bring about this state of constructive cohesion.

Work style: Doer versus thinker

Some people have a practical work style, working to plan and taking pleasure in completing actions. Others are more interested in the reasons behind the actions, and may challenge conventional approaches.

In teams, a balance of both styles is needed, to ensure thoughtful beginnings and solid completions to team actions.

Thinking style: Divergent versus convergent

Divergent thinkers are good at brainstorming and coming up with unusual ideas. Convergent thinkers, however, are good at judging and selecting items from a large set of possibilities.

Improvement teams often have an equal need for both styles of thinking, for example where divergent thinking is used to find possible causes, then convergent thinking is used to select likely key causes to be carried forward for further investigation.

Decision style: Intuition versus facts

In making decisions, a certain amount of personal judgment is required to be combined with the hard data available to help reach a conclusion. An intuitive decision maker tends to rely more on feelings and unidentified experience, whilst a factual decision-maker will seek to increase confidence in a decision by seeking out and analyzing clear facts.

Quality improvement activities tend more towards the factual end of this spectrum, although there are some situations (often to do with people) where there is little hard data available, and an intuitive approach can yield good results.



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