Roles People’s roles in a group—their set of expected behaviors—can be formal or informal. Formal roles are designated by titles: teacher or student in a class or, vice president or account executive in a corporation. Informal roles are less obvious but still powerful. Robert Bales distinguished between two fun- damental types of roles: an instrumental role to help the group achieve its tasks and an expressive role to provide emo- tional support and maintain morale. The same person can fill both roles, but often they are assumed by different individu- als, and which of these roles is empha- sized in groups may fluctuate over time, depending on the needs of the group.
One problem that can seriously harm the performance of groups is when there is a mismatch between members’ skills and what roles they occupy in the group. It is far too common in groups for members to be assigned or take on group roles in a way that is less than thoughtful and systematic. Members may be assigned roles simply based on who is available at a given point in time rather than who is best suited for the role. Groups function much better when mem- bers are assigned roles that best match their talents and personalities, and social psychologists are among the consultants often hired to help groups do this better.
Group members sometimes find themselves uncertain about what their role is supposed to be, or they may be placed in roles that conflict with other roles they have to play—either within the group (such as needing to be demanding while also being the source of emotional support) or between groups (such as between work and family). Role uncertainty, instability, and conflict are all associated with poorer job performance as well a variety of other problems, including workplace bullying or other interpersonal conflicts, emotional exhaustion and burnout, and high turnover.