You have been developing an offer for months. Now as you are preparing to launch, one person on your team continues to disrupt meetings with negative comments about the product. What do you do? Well, eventually you fire him of course. And in so doing you rid the team of the annoyance. You also rid your team of the unconsciously chosen voice of important undercurrents and sobering perspectives. When he has left, the team will most likely, unconsciously, single out someone else to play this vital role.

There is usually one person in a team who plays out the least attractive emotions or voices the most annoying point of view. When teams are given opportunity to reflect on the voice, often they find that the annoying emotions, ideas and challenges reflect their own misgivings about proposals being discussed. Wilfred Bion showed that this person has been unconsciously positioned by the rest of the team to play this role. When people work as a group they display roles and actions resulting from deeper, unconscious frameworks. Bion highlighted this effect in his work with teams when he described the two different groups acting within any group of people working together:

  • The work group operates in a rational way to complete the task the group has formed to accomplish.
  • The basic assumption group plays out the underlying assumptions to present a particular group behaviour.

There are models we can use to make these hidden structures explicit. One such structure, from David Kantor, presented in The Fifth Discipline Field Book identifies four roles people assume in any conversation.

  • Mover: who posits a point of view or suggests an action.
  • Opposer: who challenges the suggestion of the Mover.
  • Supporter: the mover and opposer will each have a small group of supporters to their view.
  • Bystander: who silently observe the interchange and develop perceptions that may be shared in the breaks.

Each of these roles is essential. Not everyone can contribute vocally to each topic. Bystanders often feel the name is accusatory. But the silent people in a conversation, if they are fully present and giving attention, provide the fabric on which conversation and insights are embroidered.

Once you have identified the roles people play keep the information with you and confirm your perceptions. Then reflect on the roles you have identified and how effective they are and how flexible the team is in these roles.