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How teams work
How teams work

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4.1 Allocating team members to roles

Teams needs to agree on who is going to carry out which role (role allocation). This need not be fixed for the lifetime of the team, particularly in operational teams. You could, for example, rotate the roles so that everyone takes a turn and thus gains experience of the different roles (as in some forms of democratic team). Or you may want to allocate the crucial roles within the team to the people who would like to take them, are best qualified to carry them out through prior or current experience, or even to people who would like to take on an unfamiliar role in order to gain experience of performing that role.

Whatever protocols you use for allocating roles within your team, you should make sure that someone performs these roles or, if the roles are not allocated explicitly, that someone in the team undertakes the tasks.

Team leader

Even where decisions may be taken by the whole team, someone has to take responsibility for chairing meetings, or their virtual equivalent. In a meeting, this person has responsibility for clarifying the aims of the meeting and its agenda. They should introduce each item on the agenda, guide the discussion of the items and then summarise the discussion and decisions taken. If the team leader has a strong leadership role they will also have a key role to play in decision making, partitioning of tasks and allocation of activities.

Record keeper

A team needs someone who takes notes in meetings: a team secretary or record keeper. One of their duties is to keep a record of what decisions have been taken, who is doing what, and the date of the next meeting. A summary of the meeting, in the form of meeting minutes, will normally be circulated to the rest of the team by the record keeper. Therefore, the minutes of the meeting can be seen as the official record of the meeting and can be referred to if decisions are revisited or are in doubt. In the virtual team setting, the easiest way to emulate this decision-making function of the meeting is to set a deadline by which an issue must have been debated and a decision made, by voting if necessary. The team leader can facilitate this process, with the record keeper recording the decision that is made.

In some operational and project teams, keeping records of issues (or bugs in computer software) is a significant record-keeping task. Special ‘issue tracking’ software has been developed that is often used by helpdesk teams or those working in customer support departments to manage records of issues reported by customers and their resolution. Project teams engaged in software development might well use a related type of software – bug-tracking software – to help manage records of errors found, and the steps taken to resolve them, in the software they are developing.

Document controller

In project teams, the record keeper may coordinate the production of team documents and reports through managing the different versions of the documents that the team produces. Or this role could fall to the team leader. If production of documents is a large task or requires knowledge skills that are held by those with technical roles other than record keeper, then the role of document controller is needed. While many projects do not have documents as their end-products (projects in the construction industry and many information technology projects, for example), most teams will have to produce periodic reports on their activities.

Progress chaser

A team needs someone who is responsible for ensuring that the team is keeping to the schedule that the team members have set themselves and ensuring that they will meet the external deadlines that have been given to them. Such a person should monitor progress, ensuring that everyone is doing what they are supposed to and that all the tasks that need to be completed by a particular date are on schedule before the deadline and have been completed once the deadline has passed.

In a small team this may be undertaken by the team leader. In a large team the role of progress chaser may be supported by a timekeeper who monitors how much time is spent on each item in team meetings. In synchronous meetings it is easy to spend too much time on the first few items of a long agenda, leaving too little time to discuss the later items. A timed agenda allots time to each item. In asynchronous collaboration a similar function may be needed, although usually an end-time is set for each asynchronous discussion. In this case the timekeeper may need to allocate periods for discussion and ensure that these are coordinated with the milestones of the project.