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Communication Exercises for Reducing Role Ambiguity in Teams

April 9, 2015

Coordinating a group of individuals with different personalities, backgrounds, and goals to work towards a common goal can be a difficult task, and to achieve success a team needs to have a shared knowledge state where every member understands the roles and values of not only themselves, but also their teammates. Teams that have more cohesion are found to be generally more successful in terms of performance (Carron et al.,2007). Therefore, it is of utmost importance for teams to find ways that maximise cohesion, and coordinate a shared knowledge that benefits individual performance, which in turn creates a collective response as a group. To examine this issue, this article will highlight the effect that role ambiguity, defined as the perception of a lack of clear consistent information about the expectations with an specific individuals position (Cunningham & Eyes,2007), has on overall group cohesion, and ultimately performance. Furthermore, examples of how to reduce role ambiguity within teams will be provided, specifically looking at communication exercises and their correlation with a more clarified role understanding and expectation.


            An important aspect of group cohesion is for the coach to create a clear and distinct vision, where goals and directions are made understandable and provide a source of motivation for the individuals in the group. However, whenever individuals are either unsure about how their role contributes to the vision, or are in disagreement with the role, it can negatively affect the group cohesion (Kahn et al., 1964 as cited in Carron, et al., 2007). Moreover, teams that foster an orientation that enables them to move towards the group objective are less likely to perceive role ambiguity. The question that arises then, is how teams can incorporate specific drills or exercises to establish role clarity and a value driven motivation. Eys et al., (2005) have shown that the biggest source of ambiguity was a lack of communication (as cited in Cunningham & Eys, 2007). Therefore, it seems that to establish a working coherent group of coordinating individuals, there must be: 1) clarification and understanding of roles and values, and 2) a clear strategy for the communication of roles and values within a group dynamic.


            The first step in clarifying role and value understanding is for the team to create a performance profile (Butler & Hardy, 1992), where individuals first highlight the strengths and weaknesses of themselves, and then of the team. Dale and Wrisberg (1996) proposed that performance profiling is a useful technique in opening and enhancing communication within teams (as cited in Weston, 2008). By comparing the various scores of individuals on how they view the strengths and weaknesses of the team, the group can then discuss on how to improve on the issues that are common amongst the views of all members. Similarly to the performance profile, individuals can also write down a few of the values that they believe the team is fostering, and put them into a hat so that they are anonymous. Afterwards, the coach takes the sheets of paper and writes them down on a board to see which types of values are most common, and so a discussion ensues about if these are the values the team wants, and if so how do we foster such an environment. In addition, fostering a mutual respect towards each other is another method of fostering role clarification. Having the athletes go through an exercise where everyone writes down something of value of the person next to them can be a great way to have athletes see how their role is viewed on the team and why they are important. This exercise can help enhance cohesiveness and confidence which reduces role ambiguity and promotes role acceptance (Munroe et al., 2002, as cited in Carron et al., 2007). To incorporate communication and role exercises more practically, coaches can make drills where athletes switch up their roles, such as having a forward in football playing defense in practise. This allows for a more creative and flexible thinking and it has been shown that assuming new roles allows for better recall of a task (Ecceles & Tennebaum, 2007). In other words, having athletes practise a different position from their own will allow them to understand the roles around them better which in turn creates a progressive understanding of their own role. Additionally, having athletes assume leadership roles can be a vital tool for creating not only role understanding, but increasing confidence as well. Chelladurai states that leadership accounts for 38.8% of team cohesion (2007), so it would be a great exercise for all members to have a chance to voice their opinions during drills, and even run the sessions themselves. For example, when running an offensive play in basketball practise, designate a leader and allow them the flexibility to come up with their formations and promote communication. By increasing leadership capabilities within individual athletes, it will increase the chance of cohesive behavior as a group.



           Performance Profile worksheet


            In order to effectively utilize these drills, the coach should be the one leading team building exercises. The consultant should work indirectly with the team, meaning that they should only provide the tools necessary for the coach to work directly with his or her members. It has been shown that whenever the coach leads a team building session, team cohesion increases (Carron et al., 2007). This paper has attempted to highlight a few of these exercises that promote group cohesion. By increasing communication, it creates a better understanding of the values and roles that are quintessential for successful performance. Although more research is needed in establishing a concise scientifically backed method of intervention for group cohesion, there are many sound theoretical models that are a base for teams and consultants to work with in order to maximise the coordination between members of a group so that they work together in pursuit of a common goal.






Carron, A.V., Eys, M.A., & Burke, A.M (2007). Team cohesion: Nature, correlates, and development. In S. Jowett,& D. Lavallee. (Eds.) Social Psychology in sport (pp.91-101)., Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Chelladuari, P. (2007). Leadership in sports In G. Tenenbaum & R.C. Eklund (Eds). Handbook of Sport Psychology (pp 113-135). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


Cunningham, Ian J., and Mark A. Eys. (2007). "Role ambiguity and intra-team communication in interdependent sport teams." Journal Of Applied Social Psychology 37(10): 2220-2237


Eccles, D.W. & Tennenbaum, G. (2007). A social-cognitive perspective on team functioning in sport In G. Tennenbaum & R.C. Eklund (Eds). Handbook of sport psychology (pp.264-283). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


Weston, N. (2008). Performance Profiling. In, A. Lane, (ed.), Sport and exercise psychology,(pp.91-106). Hodder Education: Great Britain


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