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their interventions as recorded by an electronic meeting support system. We try to identify the characteristics of each intervention and relate them to team roles.
Borges, M.R.S., Mendes, S., Motta, C.L.R.: Improving Meetings by identifying informal roles played by participants. Proc. of the 7th International Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work in Design - CSCWD´2002, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 2002, pp. 368-373.

Improving meetings by identifying informal roles played by participants Marcos R S Borges Sueli Mendes Claudia L. R. Motta Núcleo de Computação Eletrônica & Instituto de Matemática Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] Abstract The efficiency of a meeting has a lot to do with the attitudes the participants have towards the meeting goals. The outcome of a meeting is very dependent on how the meeting participants behave, i.e., how they assume expected roles. We can select participants based on their ability to play the desired roles prior to the meeting, or we can try to examine later the participants’ behavior by analyzing their interventions during the meeting. This paper discusses this later approach and suggests a semantics network analysis to map interventions onto roles, defined as essential to a good team performance.

1. Introduction Most people don’t like to spend time in meetings. To them, meetings always seem to last too long and accomplish too little. However, most participants and especially the meeting coordinator do very little to improve the effectiveness of the meetings. They don’t prepare themselves, don’t set an agenda, don’t follow-up the meeting’s decisions, and most importantly, they don’t run it well. As a result, many calls for a meeting bring the feeling of time wasting and worthless [10, 11]. The advent of meetingware has brought many benefits to the efficiency of meetings. Electronic meetings allow for asynchronism and parallelism, reducing the amount of time people spend in meetings and generating other benefits, such as automatic meeting memory [13]. However, no matter what technological support is provided, one still need the right people to produce the best possible outcomes [2]. Not only the right individuals but also, and most importantly, the best team. Participants with similar skills, ideas and attitudes will very seldom produce a good outcome [8]. Belbin [4] defines a team role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way”. According to him, a work, a meeting included, carried out by a team would only be fully successful if the participants assume the essential roles. Belbin defines nine possible roles that a person can assume in a meeting. To a specific person, some roles are

natural, some can be taken up, if necessary, and some are very hard to incarnate. In order to produce a good job, a team should consist of people able to play these roles, as naturally as possible. Belbin uses psychometric tests to relate observed team behavior to measured psychological traits and then construct balanced teams based on the identification of team’s roles [17]. Belbin’s approach is based on the use of test results to define the best team constitution before the meeting occurs. Differently from Belbin, our approach is to conclude about the team’s behavior by analyzing participants’ interventions after the meeting takes place. Although our approach does not prevent the occurrence of bad meetings, it signalizes to participants that a change of attitudes or addition of new members might turn the meeting more effective. In this work we use team roles as the framework for analyzing the behavior of meeting participants based on their interventions as recorded by an electronic meeting support system. We try to identify the characteristics of each intervention and relate them to team roles. Participants interact with each other through an electronic meeting system based on the IBIS argumentation model [5]. The intervention’s analysis uses the IBIS categories as a first hint to classify the type of statement produced by a participant. Then it uses a semantics network technique to identify the attitude embedded in the statement and map to one or more of Belbin’s roles. Our main goal is to identify missing roles and to guide further actions from the meeting’s coordinators. We claim that meetings can be improved when using this diagnosis to add other participants to the meeting, to review the agenda or to conduct the discussion to another direction. The rest of the paper is divided as follows. Section 2 describes in details the motivation of this work. It describes the problems of meetings, how electronic meetings have addressed them and those that remain unsolved. Section 3 describes Belbin’s roles and extracts from these roles the characteristics that best map interventions to them. Section 4 presents our approach to the process that maps interventions to roles. In Section 5 we illustrate the whole process with an example. Finally, Section 6 concludes the paper.


feasible project, which he seeks to push forward urgently to decision and action. He is always directed at his objectives, which are often the team’s objectives, too. He wants action and wants it now. He makes things happen. Plant – The Plant is the team’s source of original ideas, suggestion and proposals. He is the ideas man. Of course, the other has ideas, too; what distinguishes the Plant’s ideas is their originality and radical-minded approach he brings to problem and obstacles. Much more concerned with major issues and fundamentals than with details. Monitor Evaluator – His contribution lies on measured and dispassionate analysis rather than creative ideas. He is ready to stop the team from committing itself to a misguided project. He is by nature critic rather than a creator. He does not usually criticize just for the sake of it, but only if he sees a flaw in the plan or in the argument. He is the most objective mind in the team. Company Worker – The company worker is the practical organizer. He is the one who turns decisions and strategies into defined and manageable tasks that people can actually get on with. He sorts out objectives and pursues them logically. Give him a decision and he will produce a schedule; give him a team and an objective and he will produce an organization chart. Resource Investigator – The Resource Investigator is the member of the team who goes outside the group and brings information and ideas back to it. He is always exploring new possibilities from the world. He stimulates ideas and encourages innovation but he does not have the radical originality of the Plant. He is quick to see the relevance of new ideas. His most important team role is to preserve the team from stagnation, fossilization and losing touch with reality. Team Worker – He is the most active internal communicator. If someone produces an idea, his instinct is to build on it, rather than demolish it or produce a rival idea. He is a good and willing listener. When the team is under pressure or in difficulties, Team Worker’s supports are especially valued. Finisher – He worries about what might go wrong and check details. He is a compulsive meter of deadlines and fulfiller of schedules.

2. Team’s essential roles Most guidance on how to organize a good meeting concentrate on its logical development. Suggestions such as how to set up an agenda, how to prepare the discussion and how to coordinate the debate are part of any manual about meeting best practices. Hints on how to select participants according to their profile and personal characteristics is provided by some authors [17]. Very seldom, however, advice is given on how to evaluate a meeting result based on participants’ interventions. This type of evaluation is a hard task. On the other hand, we believe this approach is more viable than predict how a participant would contribute to the meeting based on his/her personal characteristics. It is important to restate that we are referring to observe informal roles, i.e., those roles that contribute to a lively and productive discussion towards the best outcome. What are these roles and how do we identify them based on participants’ interventions? These are the questions we will try to answer in this paper. First of all, we need to define these informal roles. We borrow this definition from the works of Belbin [4] and Jay [8]. Then we need to describe the characteristics of each role in order to identify whether they are visible in the interactions. The list of roles and their main characteristics are described below. An abstract of the roles and its main contributions are depicted in Table 1. Chairman – co-ordinate the team efforts to meet external goals and targets. His pre-occupation is with objectives. He focuses people on what they do best areas of team’s function. He is the one who establish the role. He selects the problems for the team’s consideration and establishes priorities. His own early contributions are more likely to take the form of question than assertion or proposal. If a decision has to be made, he takes it firmly after everyone has had their say. He is the social leader. Shaper – He is the task leader. He is quick to challenge and quick to respond to a challenge. The main function of the Shaper is to give a shape to the application of the team’s efforts. He is always looking for a pattern in discussions and trying to unite ideas, objectives and practical considerations into a single Table 1 – Roles and its main contributions Outward Looking Social leader Chairman Ideas man Plant Goes out and brings Resource Investigator information, ideas and developments back Task leader Shaper


Inward Looking Company Worker Monitor Evaluator Team Worker Finisher

Practical organizer Measured analysis Active internal communicator Check details compulsive meter of deadlines

In this work we used an extension of the IBIS model, as proposed by Borges et al. [4]. In addition to those three elements already mentioned, the model has three new elements: remarks, tasks and pre-decisions. The first two elements augment the semantics of the interactions and will help our analysis. The third element was not considered here because it was not generated in the interaction. We combine the semantics given by the model and the characteristics of each role to analyze the participants’ interventions. The resulting rationale for this analysis is reproduced in Figure 1. The starting point is always an element of the argumentation model; the ending point is the informal role and in-between we have either an interpretation of the intervention or a relationship in the argumentation model. For example, a position where someone is elaborating on previous solution is a typical contribution of a Team Worker In the next section we will present the technique used to interpret the interventions.

3. The IBIS argumentation model We propose that our analysis results from the interventions that meeting participants produce during an electronic meeting session. It does not matter in this case whether the interaction was synchronous or asynchronous. The most important aspect is the argumentation model used. When participants use a rich argumentation model, such as the IBIS argumentation model, originally proposed by Kunz & Rittel [9] and adopted in many electronic meetings [13], it is easier to interpret their interventions. The IBIS argumentation model induces participants to classify their interventions into one of the three main categories: issue, position and argument. Besides, they also have to establish the relationship between the element they propose and those already existent in the discussion.

Problems for team’s consideration Issue


Establishing priorities

Generalization / substitution

Looking for a pattern






Solutions Elaborating on previous solutions



Worries about deadlines Searching out errors and omission Measuring analysis


Team worker


Monitor Resource Investigator

About the world, technologies, contacts, opportunities Tasks



Team Worker


Practical organization

Company Worker

About the world, technologies, contacts t t t t t t Resource Investigator New opportunities

i Figure 1 – Argumentation elements, interpretations and roles


The schema reproduced in Figure 1 is rather empiric. We recognize there is no theoretical basis behind those assumptions. On the other hand, we should this initial schema as both a staring point of our analysis and a way of illustrate our approach. After we generate the results of the analysis and confront them against the meeting results, we can tune our schema accordingly.

4. Identifying roles using Semantics Network In the last 3 decades semantics has moved from a peripheral status in the theory of grammar to a central role in linguistic research. Due mainly to Chomsky influence [6] most linguistic working within primitive grammar regarded linguistic semantic as underdeveloped without a clearly specified formal framework or a well-defined research program. It was the appearance of Montague´s paper “Proper Treatment of Quantification in Ordinary English” [12] that provided a model for developing formal semantics of theory of natural language. Here we don’t have the pretension of discussion Montague’s paper but it is necessary to emphasize its importance to the development of a formal theory of the development of a formal theory of the semantics of natural language. The work of Jackendorff [7] proposed a system for representing lexical semantic relations within generative grammar. Semantic network is a very simple way of representing the semantic content of declarative and interrogative sentences. Semantic Network was first proposed by Quillian in its unpublished doctor dissertation [14]. In order to verify if the roles proposed in this paper occur in the interaction, we propose to translate the interventions among the members of a team in terms of Semantics Networks. Our solution was inspired by that presented in TRADOS [16]. Since the transactions among the members of team include several repetitions, we created a data base containing all the expressions of the interactions already expressed in terms of Semantic Networks. Semantic network analyzing group interactions may be very simple since we know beforehand the subject that is discussed. 4.1. Syntax/Semantics Interface Each linguistic expression is directly assigned to a model – theoretic interpretation as a function of the meaning of its part. Thus, the syntactic system can be seen as a recursive specification of the well-formed ness of certain linguistic expression. In order to construct a Semantic Network we have to consider only NP (noun phrase) and VP (verb phrase). In our case, we use Logical Forms such as seen in Allen [1]. If we take the English sentence of a logical form “He booked the flight to the city for me”, the first step would

be to localize the VP – in this case: book. The second step – localize the NPs – would generate four possibilities: a) He; b) the flight; c) to the city; d) for me. Figure 2 shows a set of verb senses that are a subclass of ACTION, using the heritance mechanism. The action class TRANSFER ACTION allows the semantic relations AGENT, AT-TIME and AT-LOC inherited from the class ACTION; the classes ACTION; the cases THEME and INSTR inherited from the class OBJ/ACTION and the case TO-POSS that is explicitly defined for TRANSFER ACTION. The verbs we use in this paper are mostly verbs of actions. Issue: “We seem to have trouble keeping track of all of our orders. Orders get lost…Unfortunately, we do not find out about it until the customer calls and complains…” Position: “Probably automation is a key to improving the situation. Argument (against): I don’t want to rock the boat if the shops are generally under control and orders and receivables are being handled in an acceptable manner… Task (a proposal): I proposed the following strategy for determining information requirements: - Sample all documents and records of information. - Describe all order and account processing activities. - Identify and describe all critical data elements. - Assess current and future order, record, and production volume. - Determine current strategies for record retention. Figure 2 - Verb sentences and their subclasses We can now give examples of some of the roles we observed in a transaction. These original conversation examples were obtained from Senn [15]. The same examples were modeled using the IBIS model and appeared in [3]. We analyzed part of the message exchanged between members of a team and modeled them, i.e., generated the semantic network according to Allen’s model. The resulting networks are reproduced in Figure 3. By producing the semantic network and applying the heuristics described in Figure 1, we can map each intervention into a role. At the end, we should have all interventions mapped and we can analyze how the roles have been played in this specific meeting. This analysis is complex


Issue is a

5. Conclusions

get orders

lost and call

complaining Position is a


automation improving situation

Argument is a

automation developed hard

Argument is a

confused situation

Task is a



Acceptable manner

Orders under control


Sample documents


Records information used personnel

Task is a

procedures observe Incoming processing

Task is a

Operating procedures study manual

Figure 2 - Semantic networks from a conversation

In this paper we presented an initial framework to analyze interventions in a meeting and map them into a set of informal roles, which are considered essential to be played by participants. We used a semantics network approach to analyze the interventions and identify the roles according to empirical rules. After the tool has been tested and tuned, it can be very useful to produce a diagnosis of the meeting related to the attitudes of participants. Based on this diagnosis the meeting coordinator can either call for a change of attitude or include new participants, or even change the meeting agenda. The proposal is only a first step towards an initial analysis. It will require not only a great improvement on the algorithm that interprets the participants´ attitudes but also, and most importantly, it will require testing and evaluation. Our intention is to use the minutes of real meetings to carry out this analysis and evaluate them jointly with the participants.

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[13] Nunamaker, J.F., Briggs, R. and Mittleman, D. D.: “Electronic Meeting Systems: Ten years of Lessons Learned”, In D. Coleman & R. Khanna (eds.): Groupware: Technologies and Applications, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1995, pp. 146-193. [14] Quillian, M.R., Semantic Information Processing, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1968.

[15] Senn, J.A., Analysis and Design of Information System, McGraw Hill, 1989. [16] TRADOS, “TRADOS 5.5 Translator´s Tutorial”,, last accessed July 10, 2002.

[17] Yates, M., “The concept of team roles”,, last accessed July 12, 2002