Helping Team Members Stretch Their Communication Muscles: Kantor Four Player Model

“Four Player” Retrospective Exercise to Enable Better Business Outcomes

It takes many different mindsets and behaviors to make a team hum. I am appreciating a view of collaborative behaviors – The Kantor Four Player Model – developed by David Kantor (as part of his work on Structural Dynamics), and am finding it useful as a way to hold up a mirror to a team that is interested in understanding and improving their communication. 

You may have heard of Kantor’s four behavior models, or roles:

  • Movers
  • Followers
  • Opposers
  • Bystanders

Kantor four player model by ConverSketchNo one role of Kantor’s is “better than another.” In fact, all four roles are necessary for a team to operate with efficacy. Furthermore, folks may shift roles from moment to moment during the course of an extended discussion. 

It’s useful to know that people on a team often show up with one of the four as their default behavior – leveraging the strengths of that style, while blissfully unaware of its downsides. (Or perhaps just expressing the dark side.)  Low and behold, they are surprised by the conflicts  and communication problems that result from their obliviousness of other people’s perception of them, or if another team member tries to take on the same role.

In this post, I offer an exercise that helps team members to:

  • Become a better observer of self
  • Begin to overcome default patterns of behavior and interaction
  • Appreciate the diversity and capabilities of all the roles of Kantor’s four-player model
  • Develop ways of listening, understanding, and communicating

All of this, when sustained, leads to better outcomes – for the team, the system they operate in, and ultimately the organization itself.

What’s Your “Thing”?

As mentioned above, people naturally behave differently in different situations, however, they often have a propensity towards a single way of “showing up,” one they are most comfortable with. Their “thing.” (See Immunity to Change.)

Having each team member identify their tendency towards one of the four roles as well as understanding the light and dark sides of that type of behavior can be powerful. 

Expanding the field of view by having the team look at each individuals’ inclination and you might just help a team see why they habitually get stuck. 

“You’ve got to know what your ‘thing’ is, and you’ve got to call it a ‘thing,’ whether it’s meanness, nastiness, un-forgiveness, arrogance, ego, resistance, rebelliousness or defiance. Everybody’s got a ‘thing,’ and once you call your ‘thing’ a ‘thing,’ we can give it a place to be or dismiss it.” – Iyanla Vanzant ℅ ACI

A View of the Roles of Kantor’s Four Player Model 

I’ve assembled a view of Kantor’s four behavior models, recurring patterns of language, behavior, and conversational patterns. (Culled from a variety of sources… errors and omissions are my own doing…)

 

Role TL, DR: Bright Side Dark or Shadow Side Limiting Fears & Motivators
Mover Without movers, there is no direction.
  • Initiate action and ideas
  • Set/propose direction
  • Move a team along
  • Ability to achieve results
  • Push for aggressive growth
  • Accomplish important priorities
  • Organize vast resources toward the accomplishment of a worthy objective
  • Strength of will & inner power
  • Healthy self-esteem
  • Take up power and use it to get ahead, at the expense of others
  • Seeing others as resources to be used to accomplish what they want
  • Often leave a host of maimed bodies in their wake
  • Do not gracefully delegate, develop teamwork, build trust or mentor others
  • Over controlling
  • Focused too much on “action” and making decisions
  • Uncomfortable with silence
  • Narcissism that leads to egotism, lack of empathy and the failure to acknowledge boundaries
  • Need for status, prestige, and glamour 
  • Core fear is failing, or coming up short
  • Difficulty in trusting in others
  • “I’m only as good as my ideas”
Follower Without followers, there is no completion
  • implement what is said 
  • Good at adding to and developing ideas 
  • Support conversations and progress.
  • Gifted at creating harmony
  • Able to sense others’ needs
  • Provide appreciation
  • Gives up power to get along
  • Acquiescently silent
  • Compliant
  • Avoids controversy
  • Conflict-averse
  • Loss of self
  • Fear of rejection
Opposer Without opposers, there is no correction
  • Challenge new ideas 
  • Encourage exploration and movement
  • Provide critical feedback
  • Surface differences
  • Play devil’s advocate
  • Compete in order to triumph over others
  • Naysaying, finding fault
  • Coming across as harshly critical, arrogant
  • Find it so difficult to sit still and not say something to fill the silence
  • They are “okay” if they can find the flaw in others’ thinking
Bystander Without bystanders, there is no perspective.
  • Bring a quiet voice of support 
  • Offer a variety of perspectives to support and develop ideas
  • Brings strength of analytical mind to complex problems
  • Gain perspective and engage with unemotional calm, clarity, and insight
  • Reflect/mirror
  • Remain detached and not committed to moving ahead
  • Remain in their own head
  • Often experienced as cold, distant
  • Overly analytical or rational
  • Their sense of worth and security is tied to their rational, analytical and critical capabilities

 

Game Play – Exploring New Behaviors

Overview

  • Run a collaborative exercise (your choice – some suggestions below) in which all team members switch away from their “go-to” role – allowing them to explore new points of view and ways forward to better team dynamics.

Prerequisite

Materials Needed

kantor four player model summary

Explain

  • Explain the details of the collaborative game of choice
  • Explain that the team will be exploring various behavior modes during the game 
  • Describe in brief Kantor’s four-player model
      • The four roles and their primary functions. 
      • Optional: Discuss the bright/dark sides… (I prefer to not do this, and let the team discover those during gameplay)

Explore 

  • Before starting the game of choice, have each team member share the results of their individual 4-player survey – their default way of showing up. (Perhaps have them pin the corresponding card from their deck to their shirt front.)
  • Run the collaborative exercise instructing the players that they can only use one of their non-default behaviors 
      • They get to choose which one, 
      • Participants do not share at the outset the non-default role they’ve chosen.
    • Let the mayhem begin!

Debrief 

Circle up the wagons, and work through the following lines of inquiry:

  • “Guess which role I was playing!” – have everyone guess each others’ role of choice
      • What were the verbal and non-verbal clues as to which role someone was playing?
    • During gameplay, was there representation of all four roles?
      • If one role was missing (i.e., no one chose it during the game), what happened? 
      • How effective was the team during the game with the roles that showed up?
      • Are all four roles present in the teams’ “Default Modes”?
  • How did / do the four roles of the model complement one another?
  • How did / do the roles “butt heads?”
  • What are the potential “dark sides” of each of the four roles? 
      • Brainstorm/post-it notes to the poster board
  • In what situations could a specific role be necessary? (e.g., chaos/mover) 
  • Optional: if there’s time, run the gameplay again, we each individual choosing a different (non-default) role.

Sustaining Change

This experiment might be the equivalent of buying a scale for folks who want to shed a few pounds: Useful only if they commit to a regular program of exercise. 

Spend the balance of the debrief time helping the team to develop / refine agreements at both the individual (I) level, as well as the team (we) level.

  • Where has the team been getting stuck, and how might they experiment in the future with the four roles to resolve those impediments?
  • What happens in times of stress, when the stakes are high? (Softball question… people almost always resort to their default mode)
  • What new behaviors might need to be developed on the team (both individually and as a group)?
  • What existing behaviors are appreciated and might be amplified?
  • The AWE question: And what else?

Brainstorm and commit to candidates for action that, for example, will help the team:

  • More effectively share points of view 
  • Raise a flag if the dark side of a role is showing up 
  • Holler if a role is missing from a conversation

Happy stretching!

As Simon from the Agile Coaching Institute wrote:

Working groups often have a certain quality or ’thing’ slowing them down, repeatedly interrupting their flow, stealing their energy. Coach your teams to see this as part of their collective so they can be conscious to it, name it, and ultimately choose what to do with it.  ~ Simon

By coaching a team towards improved dynamics and communication patterns, you’ll help them deepen their connections, improve their collective performance and ultimately achieve more desirable business outcomes. 

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