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The Employee's Role in a Team

The Employee's Role in a Team

"We have more of a voice and can really have an impact."
"Employees feel free to speak up and more is done and accomplished."
"People are more open and issues get laid on the table."

These observations were made by team members during an informal OPM survey of Federal teams. They exemplify ways that employee involvement changes employee roles when an organization moves to a team structure. Federal employees find that working in teams gives them a voice in how work is done, goals are set, and decisions are made.

Defining Roles

Most problems that develop in a team occur because team roles are not clearly defined. Supervisors and team leaders are not the only ones with special roles and responsibilities. Employees also must know what is expected of them and what they will be accountable for in their new environment.

There are two basic types of roles and responsibilities that employees should be expected to assume and to be evaluated on. The first role is that of technical expert. The employee must be able to do the work well. The second type is the social role that involves the management of the processes of the team. Both roles are important to the team's success and performance improvement. In his book, Building Productive Teams, Glenn H. Varney explains the importance of clarifying the roles of team members. He observes, "During any discussion of roles and responsibilities, team members need to clearly know their specific tasks and the areas for which they will be held accountable. Everyone in the team should also know what everyone else is responsible for. This will build strength and mutual support."

Rotating Roles

In their book Teaming Up, Darrel Ray and Howard Bronstein advocate rotating both types of roles among team members. When the technical work lends itself to cross-training, rotating the tasks among members increases work efficiency, emphasizes measurable goals, and increases flexibility and job enrichment.

Rotating the social roles becomes more important if teams become self-directed. Rotating team responsibilities such as leader, training coordinator, recorder, statistician, recognition leader, communications coordinator, and scheduler gives members an understanding of team management and increases commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

A List of Roles

In his book, Leading Self-Directed Teams, Kimball Fisher observes that a team member must be:

  • a customer advocate who strives to meet customer needs;
  • a trainer who is willing to share knowledge with team members;
  • a resource who works to expand his or her knowledge base;
  • a skilled worker who strives to assure a high level of quality in the work;
  • a team player who demonstrates good interpersonal skills;
  • a decision maker who provides input to the decision making process;
  • a problem solver who is skilled in problem solving techniques.

Being Proactive

Most importantly, team members should be proactive, not reactive. They should take part actively in meetings, contribute ideas, provide suggestions, and get involved in the work. Employees who are used to sitting on the sidelines while others get involved will not be able to do so in a team setting. They'll need training and coaching from mentors, team leaders, and peers if they are going to become effective team members.

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