Team members function together like organs of human body: Part 2 Team Functions

Every team member, in addition to straightforward job specific duties, has additional (and critical) responsibilities in the team, related to his or her personal predisposition. Successful manager has to know how to ensure that all these additional team functions are present by building a customized communication and incentives system for each team member (see more on that under Team Building tag). There are many different typologies for these functions, so feel free to use mine :-).

The most prominent functions are:  Lead/s –it’s a person who is in charge while you are away (it could be a proper lead or manager if you are a director, but in our context we relate to the name functionally); Subject matter expert/s – a “know how” person for each critical domain of the system; Administrator – having personal computer did not eliminate the need for administration and anyone denying such need will end up doing everything on his own; Communicator/s – always helpful to resolve conflicts, both internal and external; Bully  – a person who will be able to push back, protect and defend the team’s domain from bullies in other teams (not advisable to have more than one); Detail-oriented – someone with attention for fine details, usually good with documents and presentations;  Innovator – a person who will always on top of the latest news and is ready to communicate them to others.

This list is far from being exhaustive and we will continue to explore this topic in later stages, but for now the goal is to unveil the concept. Some team members perform several functions at once, others are stuck with just one. What’s important is to understand that each one on the team has a responsibility as a team member in addition to his or her basic duties. Whether we want it or not those functions exist and it’s our job as managers to ensure the balance and congruence between them.

Recognition of team responsibilities will boost the performance and the motivation of team members, especially when they know they are being recognized for their abilities. Ignoring these functions will inevitably cause collisions, which would also be unexplainable due to their cause being ignored. Only by properly applying the concept of Responsibility Structure will you be able to see where these conflicts are stemming from and prevent them. This is a very extensive subject, so just to begin with:

•           Everyone on the team has to be aware of team functions others perform;

•           Clear triggers should be in place as to when to assume someone else’s function;

•           It is very productive to encourage team members to be involved and to help each other – signal of being in distress has to be welcomed and answered appropriately, otherwise the harm of not admitting the existing limitations in time could be irreversible. By establishing this rule manager contributes to a sense of common responsibility of the team for delivering the product.

As a manager you need to know to communicate and understand the nature of each team function in order to entrust responsibilities wisely and to apply guidelines to preserve their proper execution. Responsibility structure principles in essence comprise establishing the rules of engagement, building clear communication triggers, and recognition of crucial functions in the team (with alignment to hierarchy). Those principles, appropriately applied as a comprehensive concept, are inalienable to endowing your team with high strength, endurance, agility and spirit I talked about in my previous posts on the subject.

4 thoughts on “Team members function together like organs of human body: Part 2 Team Functions

  1. Very interesting approach! It makes perfect sense to rely on and help to develop personal strengths that contribute to the whole team. I think these roles should be managed informally to maintain flexibility and keep opportunities open. Making it formal may defeat the purpose and actually limit human potential of the team. After all who wants to be a “designated bully”?

  2. You are right on it Michael. Brought up types depict functions a team member plays depending on his personal inclinations in addition to official titles. Noted by you Bully will be a proud and happier contributor to the team, knowing his ability to stand on his own, defend or challenge ideas is being recognized. This typology ought to provide useful tools for a team leader or manager to utilize strengths of any team member and channeling constructively personal abilities. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I think we need to be very careful with reward systems. Individual rewards within a team structure can be very, very counter-productive. To use your analogy, taking a vitamin helps every organ in the body, not just one organ. It may be used by different amounts by different organs, and the indirect (complex) effects from one organ to the others will also need to be considered. A vitamin targeted directly to one organ, could potentially prove unhealthy tor fatal to many others. Team structures, generally require only team level rewards; easy to say, hard to do.
    The other issue is the reward itself-extrinsic vs intrinsic: the vitamin I would classify as intrinsic versus a therapeutic massage, but that depends on the team, the tasks, the organization, etc. and more importantly the leader knowing the team and those factors.

  4. @J Kam
    I absolutely agree with you that some methods can bring more harm than good. Even great method can damage by being applied wrongly. Reward system is one of the tools to energize the team and today I have written about types of sources to nourish the team. You are SO right that some of the incentives are internal and some are external. Though there is another source, it’s the manager himself. The art of being a great manager is to have all sources aligned and balanced. Manager is a standalone source, because even if all other sources fail, manager can still save the day. As further insight into topic of building a team I have also written down principles of how to apply any reward/energy source (will publish coming Monday).
    The purpose of the metaphor, as you have perfectly illustrated, is to help managers to make right decisions regarding the team. It is very natural for us to realize consequences of any manipulation with our body. All the same principles are working within the team and applying metaphor “Team as a Human body” can spare us from many mistakes.
    Can you give an example of what reward is prevalent in your team (or from your experience)? And which one you find valued the most by the team members?

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