Roles of Group Members: Perceptions, Expectations & Conflict

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  • 0:05 Groups Are the Sum of…
  • 0:58 Role Perceptions,…
  • 2:40 Roles Are Situational
  • 4:21 Three General…
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Groups are made up of people who each have their own perceptions and expectations of the group and its work. If those perceptions and expectations are not met, conflict can arise. In this lesson, we'll identify the types of roles in groups and see the interplay of expectations, perceptions and conflict within a group.

Groups Are the Sum of Their Parts

It's time to break out the time machine and go back to a time when you were in a group. This could be a formal work group, like a time when you were put into a group in school in order to complete an assignment or project, or an informal social group, like a time you and your friends were trying to work together to solve a problem. Now, think about the people in the group, as well as their perceptions, expectations and any conflict that might have been present. Additionally, as it relates to perceptions, expectations and conflict, I want you to think about the roles each person had (or thought they had) in the group.

Getting this picture in your mind will help you as we work through this lesson. You will begin to identify the concepts and traits we will be discussing as they relate to the group members you are thinking about. Taking these concepts and attaching them to the group members you have in your mind will help you to remember the concepts and see the picture much more clearly.

Role Perception, Expectations and Conflict

Every group has members that serve specific roles. It makes no difference if that group is a formal group in business or a social group - those roles are still present. We have the leaders, the followers, the loafers and just about everything in between. What is interesting is each team member that has one of these roles has a perception as to how the group should function. That is where perception, expectations and conflict can reside.

To help get an understanding of these aspects, let's break them down a little bit more:

  • Role: We can define role as the part a person plays in a specific situation. For our discussion, that role will be the role someone plays as part of a group (leader, implementer, shaper, etc.).
  • Perception: How a person views or understands a certain situation or issue. You might have heard that perception is reality. Well, that is very factual in the sense that the way a person perceives a situation is what leads to their thoughts on the reality of the situation - even if that reality is not correct or accurate.
  • Expectations: Expectations are what we believe should happen given a particular situation. During the holidays we expect to get presents, but that does not mean we will. As it relates to groups, members have expectations of what the group will do, how they will do it and how it will function. That concept leads us to conflict.
  • Conflict: Conflict is a disagreement or argument based on two opposing opinions of an issue or situation. Thus, we can see how perception and expectations can drive conflict in a group setting. One member might have certain perceptions and expectations about roles and results for the group, while someone else could have a totally different set of perceptions and expectations. When this is present, conflict arises.

Roles Are Situational

Depending on the situation or the need of the group, roles can and do change. While most people understand the more visible roles, like that of a leader, there are a variety of other roles that are present that come to light depending on the situation at hand. At times, a group needs to have people fill all or some of these roles so the group can actually function.

For instance, there is a role called the shaper. This person pushes the group towards decision-making, and he or she likes to remove barriers and embrace challenges. A shaper is not always needed in a group, but if the group starts to struggle without making decisions or with making decisions, a shaper can help get them to an end result.

There is also a role called the resource investigator. These people are typically good communicators and are fairly strong at negotiating for resources. In this role, if the team has resources at its disposal but suddenly realizes they need additional or alternate resources, the resource investigator is the person that can help with that. If we take a moment to think about it, not every person has the skill set needed to accomplish this role. Even a leader, while potentially charismatic and visionary, may not have the negotiating skills needed to bring the additional resources to the team. Thus, as the needs of the group change, this role will become more and more vital.

There is also the implementer. The person that fills this role gets things done by taking conversation and discussion and turning them into action and deliverables. Groups talk about things they need to do or get accomplished, but if there is not a person there that can take that discussion and turn it into real activities, then the discussion is potentially as far as the group will go. We have heard about groups that are together and working but never really get anything done; well, the issue is they may have talked about a lot of great ideas or solutions but nothing was really implemented.

Three General Categories of Roles

While we've talked about other types of roles besides leaders, we can also group all roles into three basic categories:

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