Meetings…meetings…meetings! Part 3

Leadership and Membership Roles.

This article is about the roles people play in groups. Roles can be looked at in several ways. This article will cover three ways members display different roles or behaviors in groups. First, there are intentional and unintentional roles played in groups. Second, there are formal and informal roles in groups. Third, there are also positive and negative roles.

Intentional vs. Unintentional
There are times when we are in groups and we may not even be aware of our behavior. We can start with a couple of well-known assumptions about communication and behavior.

  1. Communication is often unintentional. If my behavior may be unintentional then let's assume others' behavior might be as well. Aren't there times when people point out things to us that we may have done or said and we are often very surprised to hear it? It may even be something positive such as, "You really helped us stay on track in that meeting, kept us focused". Your perception may not be that at all. You just thought you asked a lot of questions.
  2. A large part of communication exists at the non-verbal level. Again, we may not even be aware of what we are non-verbally communicating to others. For instance I may not realize that my facial expression is telling others in my group that I'm bored or disinterested in the meeting. The real expression may be of confusion or fatigue.

This also happens with membership roles in groups. Sometimes there are those that are perceived as great leaders but feel as though they do not do anything special in that role. They may not even be the designated leader of the group. Some people can be very disruptive and do not realize they are until others point it out to them.

The more we increase our awareness of our behavior the more control we have over our behavior. We do this most easily by seeking feedback from others. By asking others to tell us how they see us, give us their perceptions of our behavior, the more we can look or examine that behavior and make choices about whether to change it or not. These behaviors can often be positive and negative. We cannot repeat that which we do not know.

Formal vs. Informal
There are also formal or designated roles in groups. These are typically the leader and the recorder. These are only two but likely the most common. Someone is assigned or appointed to be the designated leader. It is often this person's responsibility to keep the group on track, resolve differences, etc. The recorder is the one who takes the minutes and keeps written track of the proceedings. There are often informal roles within the group. These are the roles played by others not assigned but emerge as the group develops. Some of these roles include:

  1. Leaders. Yes, we said that this is often an assigned role but often others pick up and help the formal leader to do their job. Ideally, this is a quality all group members have. It is every member's responsibility to keep the group on track, assist with resolving conflict, helping others to participate or speak up.
  2. Gatekeepers. These are the folks who help with keeping things on track, making sure people are participating; the ideas are getting out on the table.
  3. Harmonizers. These members keep things from getting out of hand. They do not particularly like dissention and unresolved conflict. They try to 'fix' or mend hurt feelings. Keeping the peace is a priority for the harmonizers.
  4. Jokers. These are the ones who keep it light, break up the monotony, and keep the group from getting too serious. They will interject some humor, get the group off track now and then. They will often use their humor to tame conflict as needed.
  5. Timekeepers. These are the ones who will make sure that the meeting starts and ends on time. They often are the ones looking at their watches, pushing the issues along and trying to get closure. They often see meetings as a waste of time so want to waste as little of their time as possible. On a positive note, they are also the ones who help keep the group on track knowing the value of time.

These are just five informal roles members can play. All of these roles have a place in meetings and are present whether we want them to be or not. Some will present problems from time to time if not in balance. Also, some people will display several of these roles at different times during the meeting.

Positive vs. Negative Roles
Positive Roles

  1. Engagers. These members work hard at getting others to participate. They want to make sure everyone gets heard and the ideas are heard.
  2. Decision makers. These people will help make sure the decisions get made. They see the need and help make that happen.
  3. Problem solvers. These members assist with conflict resolution. They don't run away from it but do not make it worse either. They try to look at what is good for the group.
  4. Initiators. These members do not wait for someone else to start. They help get the ball rolling. It doesn't matter to them to be right on target, everybody has to start somewhere.
  5. Responsibility takers. These are your best friends at a meeting. These are the people you don't have to pull teeth with to get to do something. These are the ones who volunteer to help, will do for the group for the good of the group.
  6. The Trusted. These are the members you can trust. They will work hard for the group for the good of the group and rarely have an agenda other than what is on the table. If they disagree, they say they do and usually also tell you why.

Negative Roles

  1. Complainers. Nothing is ever right for these folks. "Yeah…but" is their motto. They can see the down side to every situation and why it won't work. Often these folks are caught in the past.
  2. Interrupters. No one ever finishes a sentence around these folks. They have something to say about everything before the sentence is completely out. The problem often is that they are afraid they will forget their thought if they don't get it out.
  3. Aggressors. These are the ones who take over and often squash the quiet ones. They often intimidate others into silence.
  4. Passive Ones. These are the ones most often laying in fear from the Aggressors. They are afraid to say anything for fear of being wrong, looking stupid, etc. Unfortunately, they may have good ideas that never get heard.
  5. Passive-Aggressors. A leader's worst nightmare because you never quite know what they are up to. They will have their own agendas in the group and search and destroy behind your back.

These are just some of the roles played by members in groups. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. This is just some food for thought for your next meeting. What roles do you play? What roles do you see others playing? It is not always easy to know what to do about the 'bad' roles. The best is to confront head on and try to preserve the integrity of the group and the person. Not an easy task to be sure. Sometimes it is wise to pull someone over that you feel might be disruptive to the group and ask them about it kindly. Remember that much of communication can be unintentional.


The group can set up rules or guidelines for behavior. These are often present implicitly anyway. It is always best when they are stated so everyone understands the norms. There is nothing worse than finding out the rules only because you broke one. Much of how a group handles its membership behavior relies on the relationships established and shared. A group that trusts each other can often be much more 'honest' with each other than a group that does not. The more similar the make up of the membership, the easier the communication may be with the group.

Awareness and commitment to the process will help a group progress through the difficult times. Groups take time to get to know each other, some longer than others do. Understanding the roles taken by its membership is one step towards appreciating the dynamics of groups.


We often think about conflict as that eight letter dirty word. Many of us want to run when it looks as if a little disagreement is heading in our direction. First, let's talk about a few assumptions about conflict. One, conflict is inevitable. It is bound to happen. The laws of human nature prevail----we cannot and will not agree all of the time. We are unique creative individuals with different backgrounds, education, roles, families, etc. Our perceptions are our own because of those experiences. We bring to every relationship and interaction different ideas. Two, we need conflict to generate more ideas and creativity. Conflict prevents complacency and boredom. Not all conflict is a fight per se; it comes in a variety of degrees and can be very productive when managed appropriately. There have been thousands of articles and books written about conflict. There are a variety of ways to deal with conflict. Here are just a few simple suggestions and guidelines that may work for you.

  1. Be in the right frame of mind. This means all parties involved--you should not be too tired, too angry, too preoccupied.... If you are not in the right frame of mind, you will not be listening.
  2. Establish ground rules if you have to. If past experience tells you that certain behaviors, not conducive to problem solving, tend to surface... pre-agreed upon rules can help. Examples might be, both parties agree to the time and place or no name calling. We often keep to the rules when we have mutually and verbally agreed to them. We also sometimes need a rule for when we break the rules.
  3. No hitting below the belt or gunny sacking. It is non-productive and usually makes a bad situation worse if not impossible. Storing up everything from the last six months and then spewing it out on the table for discussion is likely to shut down any conversation.
  4. Be very clear about what the goal is----seems obvious I know but is it to solve the problem, change the relationship or to hurt the other person, make them feel guilty? The goal should guide your process.
  5. Be descriptive not judgmental
  6. Don't does not accomplish much except to hurt.
  7. Take responsibility for how you feel. "I feel like this when..." rather than "You make me..."
  8. Do what you say you are going to do. Nothing erodes trust faster than to not keep a promise that was made. Be very careful before you make that promise...can you do it?
  9. Remember...we all make mistakes and we are not our mistakes. We need to exercise a little tolerance in others.

In another article, I will talk more about some specific strategies for conflict management. Different situations require different strategies and skills.

 Please use this information as it is intended but if you copy, copy in its entirety with appropriate copyright information. All articles are copyrighted and owned by Lisa Pervin, PhD, RN, CRRN & Best Business Practices Consulting, Inc. 2015