Monday, 01 September 2014 18:27

Understanding Your Roster of Players: How the Roles People Play in Organizations Impact Change Initiatives

Written by Dr. Hope Zoeller and Dr. Joe DeSensi

The roles your employees play on a team can affect every aspect of how you staff, how you lead, and how you plan the team’s workload. There are many ways to evaluate what personality types you have on a team and how they might work together. The purpose of this article is to develop a new lexicon and new approach to evaluating the makeup and the power structure of a team.

Roster of players

Many already have a way to evaluate the people on a team: Predictive Indexing, DISC, Myers-Briggs, etc. Those are all great assessments, but usually there is a preconceived notion about a certain letter combination or personality curve. We offer a fresh way to inventory the people on one’s team by creating a new lexicon, The Roster of Players.

Positive Roles

All Americans - These are your go-to folks, your stars, your high profile individuals that are very high yielding. They might also be your intro or de facto leaders when you’re not there, and they are also the ones that you groom in your succession planning to replace yourself should you get promoted or pursue other opportunities. Strategies: Shared vision, buy-in and positive leadership. These are marquee players that play vital roles and are known.

Lombardi Award Winners – LAW’s are workhorses that do not need the high profile role that is needed to satisfy All Americans. They do not complain, they will do whatever needs to be done, and they are high energy and high yielding member with good attitudes and a good work ethic. Sometimes can be groomed to be All Americans with coaching in leadership skills and communication. Strategies: Must help them focus on playing the game. They must be accountable for “game” accomplishments.

Cheerleaders - They are for whatever the leader is for. They rally support, communicate with a positive spin and have a strong informal social network. They are not the best at completing complicated tasks and also need a heavy social component to their daily schedules. If harnessed correctly, they can be effective at communicating to the team and gaining support from some of the roles that usually have poor or negative attitudes. Strategies: Need shared vision and positive feedback for their extra efforts. Should be nurtured for leadership.

Grumblers - This group might sound like it should be in the negative column. They are a little more negative in attitude, but if managed properly, can have the same work yield as LAW’s. Think of Grumblers as grumpy LAW’s. Strategies: May need to be in decision-making loop (sometimes they grumble because they don’t have input or they don’t understand the “why”). Need to get and give positive feedback for successes. May need expectations set for where and when grumbling will not be acceptable.

Procrastinators – This group has poor time management skills and little ability to estimate the time a task requires. They are normally fairly pleasant but possibly less so as a looming deadline comes due. Still, they are a positive role. Though requiring more oversight and strategic help, if properly managed they can yield a decent output. Strategies: Need personal plans with time line expectations. May need regular visits and chats about progress to encourage movement. Chunking work into smaller portions can also help maximize their output.

Negative Roles

Keepers of the Old Flame – They are resistant to change. They remember a past that never was (meaning they romanticize or are overly critical about the past). They can hijack meetings, work time, and productivity. Flame keepers are not good for onboarding newbies, can be mid yielding if managed well, but can be dangerous if put in toxic social/functional group. Strategies: Need to focus on what can be not what was. Must commit to vision, have a personal plan for and be held accountable for implementation. May need firm intervention if opposed to change.

Perpetually Overwhelmed – They always complain about being overworked. They have a priority list with 30 items tied for number 1. They can suffer from analysis paralysis. They are similar to the Procrastinators but have more issues with attitude and moral. They are not good for onboarding newbies but can be effective if managed well. It is also dangerous to put them in toxic social/functional groups. Strategies: Must have priorities set and be held accountable for reaching deadlines. Needs to have regular “reality check” chats with leadership. They are like under producing Grumblers. Sometimes, they are so overwhelmed that they cannot get started with anything. Sometimes are mistaken for procrastinators, but is important to distinguish because the strategies are different.

Naysayers – Initially, they are always negative or at least concerned about an issue. Their negativity comes more from a resistance or fear of change than actual concerns about the strategy. Change is an immediate negative, and only time and information can warm them to an initiative. As most of the negative roles, they should not be grouped in toxic work groups and are bad for onboarding newbies. Strategies: Need to be in planning loop. Usually need new/bad information in advance or in a pre-meeting. Need specific expectations set for their piece of the new vision. May need to be part of success celebrations.

Blockers and Saboteurs – This is the most insidious group, because they are rarely immediately categorized properly. They might come off as Cheerleaders or even All Americans. The largest difference in this negative role from the other negative roles is that the others wear their dysfunction on their sleeves and are easily recognizable. The main characteristic of this group is that they attempt to seem positive or helpful, but they actively try to derail initiatives and undermine things behind the scenes that they support publicly or to leadership. Strategies: There is little that can be done with this group because of the lack of trust felt towards them once properly identified. Immediately, a leader needs to mitigate any power they have and double check any sub plans in which they are in charge. Long term, they usually need to go. We have plenty of work dealing with skills, attitude and communication. . . there is no time for malicious intent.

Newbies – The Not-Yet-En-Rolled

Newbies are the swing role. They are those new to your organization or new to your team. The die is not yet cast, so they have the greatest opportunity for increasing or decreasing potential work yield, energy and attitude. What many people do when things are busy or something is coming to a critical point in an initiative is to pair a newbie to a low producing team member. Whether a naysayer that zaps the person’s energy or the keeper of the flame that bleeds time stories or a past that never was, improperly onboarding a newbie is a mistake that costs many times its initial productivity savings down the line. Strategies: Pairing a newbie with a Lombardi Award Winner or an All American can lead to a short term decline in the team member’s work yield, but maximizes the potential of the newbie integrating into the team effectively and setting high goals for attitude and work yield from the beginning. It is easier to start good habits than it is to correct bad ones.

Hope Zoeller, Ed. D is President and Co-Founder of Hope for Leaders, LLC and Adjunct Professor at Webster and Spalding Universities. Hope may be reached at

Joe DeSensi, Ed. D is the Senior Leadership Consultant of Hope for Leaders, LLC and Adjunct Professor at Webster and Spalding Universities. Joe may be reached at

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(This article was written from material presented at the 2013 KYSHRM Conference.)

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