Functional Roles of Group Members
Benne and Sheats
Functional Roles of Group Members
Kenneth D. Benne and Paul Sheats
I am looking at a handout I preserved from a group facilitation workshop I attended some time ago. It lists the various “roles” or “behaviors” of group members, presenting them in three categories: those related to the accomplishment of the group’s task, those aimed at building and maintaining the group per se, and those aimed at satisfying individual needs that are irrelevant to the group. It is a handy checklist, but without much context or explanation. Many of the books on my shelf, some very recent, have similar lists, characterizing group-member behaviors as the initiator, the encourager, or the blocker. Many of them cite the original source for these insights, an article entitled, “Functional Roles of Group Members,” published in 1948 in the Journal of Social Issues by Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats. Paul Sheats, who died in 1984, and Kenneth Benne, who died in 1992, were both professors of adult education, Sheats at the University of California and Benne at Boston University. They collaborated, with others, in the early development of the “T-Group” and were instrumental in founding the National Training Laboratory, now the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science. This article, reprinted with permission of the publisher, is one of their legacies. The article, which provides context for the often-used list of group-member roles, is best understood in yet the larger context of group effectiveness and democratic ideals. Kenneth Benne, with his coauthors in The Improvement of Practical Intelligence, expressed it this way: The ideal goal of democratic cooperation is a consensus in the group concerning what should be done—a consensus based on and sustained by the deliberation of the group in the planning, execution, and evaluation of the common action of the group. No other method … depends so crucially on the deliberation of the whole group … [nor] so centrally upon the responsible discipline of all of its members in conscious, habitual methods of deliberation, discussion, and decision (Raup, Axtelle, Benne, and Smith, 1950, p. 35). In that context, the following article is not simply about training leaders or training members, but highlights the functional roles that are needed in, or detract from, group effectiveness, creating consensus, and fulfilling democratic ideals. —Sandor Schuman, Editor
The Relative Neglect of Member Roles in Group
Efforts to improve group functioning through training have
traditionally emphasized the training of group leadership. And frequently this training has been directed toward the
improvement of the skills of the leader in transmitting
information and in manipulating groups. Little direct attention seems to have been given to the training of group members in the membership roles required for effective group growth and production. The present discussion is based on the conviction that both effective group training and adequate research into the effectiveness of group training methods must give attention to the identification, analysis, and practice of leader and member roles, seen as co-relative aspects of over-all group growth and production.
Certain assumptions have undergirded the tendency to isolate the leadership role from membership roles and to neglect the latter in processes of group training. 1) “Leadership” has been identified with traits and qualities inherent within the “leader” personality. Such traits and qualities can be developed, it is assumed, in isolation from the functioning of members in a
group setting. The present treatment sees the leadership role in terms of functions to be performed within a group in helping that group to grow and to work productively. No sharp distinction can be made between leadership and membership functions,
between leader and member roles. Groups may operate with
References: Raup, R. B., Axtelle, G., Benne, K. D., and Smith, B. O. (1950).
Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal – Number 8, 2007
Please join StudyMode to read the full document