Group roles help to distribute tasks fairly. They may also prevent duplication of work, achieve efficiency, and ensure group member accountability.
Examples of group roles for students include: facilitator, arbitrator, monitor, note-taker, and timekeeper. Below, 21 different types of group roles are outlined for you to pick from for your own group tasks.
Group Roles for Students
1. Facilitator – The facilitator is a person who guides the group’s discussions. They may come to the group discussion with a set of discussion questions to ask, prompt quieter team members to see what their opinions are, and ask ‘devil’s advocate’ questions to help improve the group discussion and achieve a better outcome.
2. Arbitrator/Haromonizer – The arbitrator steps up to ensure the group achieves common consensus. Once group members have presented their ideas and opinions, the arbitrator will help the group to find shared consensus on a way forward. They might ask team members to come to compromise, find ways to include all viewpoints, or identify ways team members’ views are congruent. A good strategy for the arbitrator is to draw up a venn diagram to visualize points of overlap between team members’ views.
3. Monitor – The monitor keeps account of objects, supplies, and other items within the team. They will know who owns what items, and which items are shared team items. They may have a check-in/check-out sheet to ensure all items are accounted for. Because this is a mostly accounting role, the monitor may also have another group role at the same time.
4. Notetaker – The notetaker will take minutes in all meetings. They should be accountable for sharing those notes after the meeting and cleaning them up so they are easy for all team members to read. It’s a good idea for the notetaker to also write down what the outcome of the meeting was, what actions will take place after the meeting, and who is responsible for which action.
5. Time Keeper – The timekeeper ensures that everything in the meeting gets enough time to be discussed. This may mean that they encourage the team to get started instead of socializing at the start, or encourage the team to move on if one topic is being dwelled upon at the expense of others. The time keeper can also keep track of how long each task will take so the entire team project is completed in time. In other words, they will set milestones for different tasks to be completed.
6. Devil’s advocate – The devil’s advocate’s entire role is to pick holes in the current project and identify weaknesses. This is a hard role because you’re going to be being critical of others. Make sure you’re not too harsh, and let people know when you’re wearing your “devil’s advocate” hat so they know you’re playing a role and not just being snarky!
7. IT Guru – The IT guru is in charge of all things technology. They might make sure there is space booked in the library with the right IT equipment, organize the electronic equipment for a class presentation, and create the animations for the team’s slide deck.
8. Reporter – The reporter is the designated person who gives the final presentation to the teacher or class. They might be the best speaker or presentor of the group. However, they need to be a representative of the whole group and not just say what they want. Sometimes, every group member is expected to take this role in equal measure during a presentation.
9. Researcher – Sometimes, a group may decide to allocate one person the role of ‘researcher’. This person is tasked with going away and gathering further information on a topic that they team has identified as an area wher emore knowledge is required. They will come back to team meetings later on with what they found. To be good at this role, you need to have strong media literacy skills.
10. Mentor – The mentor is usually a team member who is more experienced and able to guide the team through their project. This mentor should be there to provide support but allow the team members to lead. Mentors encourage and help without being overly intrusive. They might know the right questions to ask or have great advice during times of adversity.
11. Leader – Some teams assign a leader who will be the designated ‘head’ of the task. There are many different types of leadership that the group will have to figure out. For example, can the leader overrule the group or would you prefer a democratic leadership style?
12. Servant Leader – Another type of leadership role in the group could be the ‘servant leader’. This is a hard-working leader whose every task is focused on serving the team and the group goals.
13. Autocratic Leader – The autocratic leader is a firm authority figure whose job is to make all the final decisions. The buck stops with them, but they might have to overrule their team members if they disagree with them.
14. Pacesetting Leader – The pacesetting leader is the type of leader whose role is to set high expectations for the team. Like the lead runner in a marathon, the pacesetting leader moves the fastest and works the hardest to show the team how it’s done.
15. Charismatic Leader (Motivator) – The charismatic leader is a motivator. Your group might assign a charismatic leader if there’s one person everyone respects for their ability to motivate a team and the whole group knows this leader will get the most out of the team.
16. Prioritizer – The prioritizer’s role is to make sure the group is focused on the things that matter and will achieve progress. In a meeting, the prioritizer will choose which tasks should be raised, and at the end of the meeting, they may create a hirearchy of to-do tasks so the group knows which tasks need to be done most urgency.
17. Diverger – The diverger’s role is to put on a ‘divergent thinking’ hat. Divergent thinking is all about thinking about multiple possible solutions to a single problem. If there’s a task that requires divergent thinking (such as brainstorming), the diverger will take the lead in the discussion.
18. Converger – The converger’s role is to put on a ‘convergent thinking’ hat. Once the team has gathered a bunch of data points, the converger tries to bring those data points together to find a single best solution to the problem.
19. Runner – The runner’s role is to run tasks for the team. This role is often given to the intern or assistant who works on the periphery of the group. They are not as required in group discussion and while their input is welcome, they can also leave the group to run tasks in the middle of sessions if needed.
20. Wildcard – The wildcard steps in when another group member is missing. One day they might be the note taker and the next they might be the IT Guru. While they don’t have one clear role, they need to be skilled enough to step into any role at short notice, so they’re a valuable asset.
21. Checker – The checker reviews everyone else’s work to make sure it meets a minimum standard. They might be the best at grammar and spelling, for example, or they might peer review others’ work to make sure it’s factually accurate and doesn’t have flaws in their arguments.
How to Assign Group Roles
The group dynamics of every group is different, so there is no best way to assign group roles. Negotiate with your team and solicit advice from your teacher.
Below are some suggested strategies for assigning roles:
- Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each group member: Simply assigning a title is not enough. List 5 to 10 responsibilities for each role and state when those responsibilities should be exercised. This gives group members clarity on what they need to do. It may also ensure transparency and performance standards.
- Assign roles based on group members’ strengths (and weaknesses): If you have a group member who is particularly good at computers, it makes sense to make them the IT guru. If there’s a group member with great organizational skills, they might be a natural fit for the timekeeper. If you’ve got a group member who is an excellent speaker, it makes sense to make them the ‘reporter’, and so on. Group members may also nominate roles that they know are their weaknesses to avoid being placed in positions where they may not be comfortable.
- Allow all members to have input: Too often, a domineering group member will assign roles without fully consulting group members or asking for their input.
- Consider rotating roles: To prevent burnout and ensure group members get a chance at a variety of roles, you may want to rotate roles between group members. For example, if you have three projects to complete, rotate roles after each project. This can help resolve disputes if multiple members want the same roles.
- Be flexible: Be open to adjusting roles and even sharing roles between group members. Remember that you’ll never always get your own way. Furthermore, part-way through the tasks, you may find changes on-the-fly are necessary. Be open to this.
If there is one piece of advice I can give to my students, it’s to remind them that you’ll never get your own way when completing group tasks. In fact, you might need to put aside the idea of getting A+ grades and focus on the intrinsic value of the task: to learn the social skills of working with people who have different perspectives, skills, and motivations to you. Remember that this is practice for the workplace where you’ll be working in groups with interpersonal conflicts on a daily basis.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.