Positive and Negative Member Roles

Some roles in a group are not administrative or task focused but contribute to the functionality of the team—with positive or negative results. Whether a role is positive or negative depends on the situation. For example, a member who always makes everyone laugh can be an asset when news is less than positive; however, when work needs to be accomplished, clownish behavior may become a distraction. Table 3.4 summarizes positive roles or behaviors members can bring to a group or team.[1][2]

Table 3.4, Positive Member Roles

POSITIVE ROLE

BEHAVIOR

Initiator/Coordinator

Suggests new ideas or new ways of looking at the problem

Elaborator

Builds on ideas and provides example

Coordinator

Brings ideas, information, and suggestions together

Evaluator/Critic

Evaluates ideas and provides constructive criticism

Recorder

Records ideas, examples, suggestions, and critiques

The above positive roles are not set or assigned, and any member may engage any of the behaviors at any given time, depending on the situation. Likewise, with the negative roles. Table 3.5 summarizes negative roles or behaviors team members will want to avoid.[1][2]

Table 3.5, Negative Member Roles

NEGATIVE ROLE

BEHAVIOR

Dominator

Dominates discussion, not allowing others to take their turn

Recognition Seeker

Relates discussion to their accomplishments; seeks attention

Special Interest

Relates discussion to special interest or personal agenda

Blocker

Blocks attempts at consensus consistently

Joker or Clown

Seeks attention through humor and distracts group members

Remember, personality traits and behaviors can be positive or negative depending on the context. Just as the class clown can have a positive effect when lifting spirits or a negative effect when distracting members, a dominator may be exactly what is needed for quick action. For example, an emergency physician doesn’t have time to ask all the group members in the emergency unit how they feel about a course of action; instead, a self-directed approach based on training and experience may be necessary. In contrast, the pastor of a church may have ample opportunity to ask members of the congregation their opinions about a change in the format of Sunday services; in this situation, the role of coordinator or elaborator is more appropriate than that of dominator. If a group member repeatedly engages in blocking behavior, then the behavior becomes a problem; however, if a group member suggests a different course of action, the point may be well taken and serve the collaborative process. A skilled business communicator will learn to recognize when positive and negative behaviors are or are not useful.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

–Andrew Carnegie, as quoted in Business Communication for Success[3]


  1. Beene, K., & Sheats, P. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of Social Issues, 4, 41–49. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1948.tb01783.x
  2. McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  3. University of Minnesota (2010). Group communication, teamwork, and leadership. In Business communication for success (19). https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/part/chapter-19-group-communication-teamwork-and-leadership