Anytime two or more people meet with the goal of coming to consensus, chances are they will take on different roles in the process. This interplay between individuals and the group forms an important basis for group dynamics.
In meetings, the playing field is not level. Meeting participants are often influenced by others in the group. Powerful leaders, participants with personal biases (including cultural differences) , and persuasive personalities can coerce the individual or group and affect the meeting outcome.
Roles played in meetings
If the group members are cohesive in thought, focused on furthering the meeting’s objectives, then all is well. Yet, not everyone plays by the rules. As a meeting leader, it helps to know the range of roles found in meetings and to recognize the players who fill them.
Actions by meeting participants with maintenance roles are meant to create a supportive atmosphere, often needed if tensions arise—possibly due to an unresolved disagreement.
- Supporter, often expressed via supportive comments, like “Mary, that’s an excellent idea,” or “I see that Marketing and Sales agree on at least three of the four points under discussion” that can ease tension.
- Gatekeeper, someone who can jump in if anyone is monopolizing the conversation, or if someone is too timid to speak up and needs a nudge. It may be that the meeting’s ground rules, or at least the pertinent ones for the problem at hand, need to be restated.
Actions by meeting participants with task roles help move the meeting along.
- Initiator, suggesting an action—a task or goal—as the meeting is getting started, or when the meeting is at a lull and needs a kick-start.
- Information / Opinion Seeker, focusing on requesting facts, ideas, or opinions from participants.
- Consensus tester, checking if the group needs more discussion before advancing to the next step.
- Clarifyer, checking whether participants’ need increased understanding of a particular matter or presentation.
- Summarizer, summarizing the proceedings so far, to make sure everyone are at the same page.
Actions by meeting participants with hindering roles are detrimental to the meeting’s progress. Everyone would be better off without them.
- Dominator, asking too many questions (out of balance with the general flow of the meeting) and/or are simply long-winded at the microphone.
- Unfocused, hindering the process by not being fully present, not participating (akin to only half the people in a state voting on an issue—resulting in skewed representation).
- Degrader, attacking other participants or their point of views. Creating tension, dissolving trust and the willingness to work together.
- Stubborn, uncooperative stalls forward motion.
- Distractor, having side conversations that not only disrupt the meeting for others, but also remove the distractees from active participation with the group.
Identify roles to balance the group
An excellent way to gain a sense of group dynamics is to sit in on a meeting where you are not actively participating. It will become clear who readily steps forward, who sits back, who interrupts. Certain personality traits will emerge, such as confidence and impatience, at the outset.
By taking note of the participant types as well as the overall discussion path it will quickly be revealed how a group meeting can be influenced by personality factors that should be acknowledged and addressed as part of meeting best practices.