02 Mar 2017


What's the difference? Your role is the position you have taken on or the part you play in a particular operation or process, whereas your responsibilities are the tasks that are expected of you as part of that given role. These responsibilities are the duties you are obliged to carry out and on which you will ultimately be judged and held accountable.


It’s important to assign tasks within a process or project to people in a team. However there is also an argument for encouraging individuals, in whatever role, to take the bull by the horns rather than seeking to defer blame or obligation elsewhere. Highly effective teams have spheres of responsibility but understand that not all issues or tasks can be easily pigeon-holed and time can be wasted batting them from pillar to post. Encourage a culture whereby the focus is on outcomes and where everyone feels responsible for them.


A lack of clarity around people’s roles and, importantly, the specific responsibilities that fall within them is one of the most common reasons why teams fail to meet expectations. Aside from resulting in an overlap of activities or duties, confusion and unnecessary errors, lack of clarity over who is meant to do what can lead to team members disengaging and losing interest in achieving their goals.


Dr Meredith Belbin identified nine team roles that underline team success and the behaviours, strengths and weaknesses that tend to characterise each one. He argued that the best-functioning teams are those that are balanced, with all of the roles covered and a spread of strengths and weaknesses. In his model, Belbin’s nine roles are split into three groups: Action-Oriented – Shaper, Implementer and Completer Finisher; People-Oriented – Coordinator, Team Worker and Resource Investigator; and Thought-Oriented – Plan, Monitor- Evaluator and Specialist.


Encouraging team members to think about the specialities and unique experiences that they bring to the team and additional responsibilities that they could take on can help them to invest more deeply in the team and its goals. Ask people to take a step back from their formal professional roles and responsibilities and consider how else they could contribute in a positive way. Giving team members the opportunity to discuss one another’s contributions, formal and informal, meanwhile, can also help to clarify roles and responsibilities within the team.


While you have a formal position in your organisation or team, it’s likely you also fulfil other informal roles, which although not always necessary in order to achieve your goals can have a major impact on the team’s progress towards them. Whereas formal roles are assigned to people, informal ones tend to be taken on by individuals naturally according to their attitudes, characters, motivations and approaches to work. For example, within a team there may be members who naturally assume the roles of spokesperson, cheerleader, ringleader and realist. Identifying these informal roles in your team and understanding how they impact on its success, positively or negatively, is important.


With maturity comes accountability – the understanding that it is your own decisions and actions that lead to your circumstances, successes and failures. Signs that your team members lack this important trait and are shirking their responsibilities include a general lack of interest in their work and in the success of the team unit; a tendency to blame others for mistakes and failures and to find excuses for their own performance; and an aversion to taking risks and tackling difficult challenges.


If you sense that someone in your team doesn’t feel accountable for their and the team’s performance, it’s up to you as the leader to help them. Start by talking to them, armed with specific examples and constructive feedback, and dig deeper into why they might be hiding in the shadows. Help them to re-engage with the team’s goals, breaking those objectives down into manageable chunks and clearly defining their individual role in achieving them. Give plenty of praise and try to re-ignite their passion and pride in being part of the team.


Research by Argos for Business examined the different roles taken on by personality types, finding the most popular work personality to be Captain Questions, those who enjoy probing and group problem solving. People fulfilling this role are most likely to call collective brainstorms to reach decisions and to encourage and reward free thinking. Second most popular was the role of Independent Introverts, people who reach decisions in their heads before sharing them with the group. Around a fifth of us consider ourselves to be Big Idea Bods, people who understand that others in the group will make their ideas happen.


Few of us, though, feel confident in our abilities to cheer-lead the group. Only one in seven of us consider ourselves to be People-Orientated Performers, there to motivate others, perhaps because over half believe our principal motivation comes from within. A third believe motivation is best achieved by encouraging collaborative working and allowing personality types to complement each other, while a similar proportion said motivation was increased by listening and taking on board other ways of working. A quarter said being involved in decision-making helps to boost positive attitudes in the workplace.