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Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams
Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams

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2.4 Roles in teams

Members of a team do not only undertake the tasks that lead to achievement of the goal. They also need to undertake activities or tasks that enable the team to function effectively. This course distinguishes three types of roles within teams:

This distinction into three types of role is developed from the discussion in Boddy and Buchanan (1992) of three types of skills: process, content and control. Tasks associated with the technical role, those required to achieve the project or operational goal, are usually clearly allocated with well defined responsibilities and milestones. Typically the ability of an individual to fulfil the technical needs of the project or operational goal is the primary reason for selection or allocation to a team.

The second category of work consists of the management activities which are required to make the individual members of the team function effectively as a team. These are activities or tasks related to the process of team organisation and management. Often referred to as functional roles, they can appear to be of secondary importance when compared to technical roles. However, ensuring that team members work constructively together will prevent the team from drifting aimlessly, sometimes acrimoniously, and hence risk missing the deadlines. Functional tasks should be well defined and are best carried out by team members having particular roles. However, these roles may change and be undertaken by different team members over the period of the team working.

Team roles are about the way team members interact with each other in order to facilitate team processes and the progress of the team towards its overall goal. Team roles have more to do with personal qualities and preferred ways of working than with function within the team.

Activity 7

Recall any team in which you are involved or have been involved in the past. How were you selected for this team? How much of the selection was based around the technical skills required for the role and how much about the wider needs of the team, for example in being able to fulfil a functional (organisational) role or have particular personality or role attributes?


An advert for a job or role is likely to make the technical requirements clear, but the team needs can often be less clear. It is common to see general requirements such as ‘ability to work as part of a team’, but this might suggest that the applicant should be able to fulfil any and every need within the team. Some companies use role or personality testing to determine suitability for the role and others may not. This may be very clear, for example a job advert might state that psychometric testing will be used as part of the selection process. In other cases role or personality techniques may be used informally, for example a job advert might ask for someone who is creative or innovative and evidence of such attributes mentioned in the application form would be sought at interview.

For teams formed from existing employees the process may, or may not, use role or personality techniques and the process may or may not be undertaken formally. Perhaps you can think of examples such as being told by a team leader ‘I’ve asked for X to join us since they are good at exploring new ways of doing things’. However, it is generally more typical for the technical expertise to be the priority in selection for teams.