Roles Merged

Teams and roles part 2: What the research says

Just about all the work we do and our clients do are in cross-functional teams. I see teams struggling with roles and ownership so I’ve been searching for answers in academic research.

Roles are norms that tell us how to behave

“Clear and explicit specification of the basic norms of conduct for team behavior, the handful of “must do” and “must never do” behaviors that allow members to pursue their objectives without having to continuously discuss what kinds of behaviors are and are not acceptable.” (Hackman)

Roles need to be understood and defined 

“Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood — in fact, when individuals feel their role is bounded in ways that allow them to do a significant portion of their work independently. Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task.” (Erickson)

Roles don’t have to be fixed and permanent 

“Within a team, individual roles need to be clarified and understood by all. However, role construction can be influenced by personal expectations, and by organisational and interpersonal factors (Maple 1987). Therefore, roles need to be flexible enough to accommodate individual differences, personal development needs and membership changes (Blechert et al. 1987).

Some of the conflict we’re experiencing is because teams haven’t established roles and norms or individuals on the team are not following the norms. Product, UX and engineering roles are different everywhere I go. The folks filling those roles are individuals with different strengths. In the next part of this series I’ll share some practical advice.

Image: An altered version of the featured image in the part one

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