Team Dynamics: Five Strategic Roles
Having led a 12-person international marketing communications team for the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about team dynamics. I’ve come to believe that any team — largely regardless of task or area of expertise — needs to have five essential roles represented among its membership. As you’ll see, these roles reflect strategic mindsets rather than tactical skills.
Historian: Representing the past, this person brings historical context and perspective to the team’s work. In so doing, this person may well keep the team from repeating previous mistakes, or in the case of a creative team, recycling old ideas. The upside of this role is it ensures some degree of continuity even as it helps the team avoid redundancy. Taken too far, this role can hold the team in the past. The natural balance to this role is the Provocateur.
Provocateur: Representing the future, this person challenges the status quo. In so doing, this person counters the Historian and helps keep the team from getting stuck in “the ways things have always been done.” The upside of this role is that it can serve as a positive catalyst for change. Taken too far, this role can push the team in too many new directions at once. The natural balance to this role is the Skeptic.
Skeptic: Representing the “cons,” this person questions the ideas of others. In so doing, this person counters the Provocateur and helps keep the team from going off on tangents or pursuing unrealistic ideas. The upside of this role is that it demands discussion and validation, both of which can make god ideas stronger (and kill off truly bad ideas). Taken too far, this role can verge into negativity and generate unproductive dissension. The natural balance to this role is the Cheerleader.
Cheerleader: Representing the “pros,” this person champions the strong ideas of others. In so doing, this person counters the Skeptic and helps keep the team moving forward in a positive direction. The upside of this role is that it serves to build and strengthen good will among team members, and it encourages the continued sharing of ideas. Taken too far, this role can actually discourage healthy debate. After all, not all ideas merit cheering. The natural balance to this role is the Visionary.
Visionary: This person develops a distinctive vision for what the team needs to accomplish and how best to get there. In so doing, this person counters the Cheerleader and helps ensure that positivity does not overwhelm productivity. The upside of this role is that it synthesizes the input from each of the other roles (past, future, cons and pros) and determines a path forward. In many cases, the person fulfilling the Visionary role is also the team leader, though this does not necessarily need to be the case.
In addition to these five strategic roles, many teams also opt to have one or more tactical roles represented. A strategy-focused team typically benefits from the input of a tactical, “in the trenches” perspective, especially in cases where change initiatives are being contemplated. But, at a minimum, the presence of the five strategic roles outlined here gives any team a much higher likelihood of success.