Team Roles - Meredith Belbin
When Dr Meredith Belbin decided to investigate the way teams of executives tackled a team-oriented task at the Henley Management College in the 1960s, it is unlikely he expected the results to still be used all over the world 50 years later. However, the Belbin Team Roles model, finally published in his 1981 book ‘Management Teams’, is commonly used for identifying the roles individuals play in their teams and how these roles can be combined to maximise performance.
Belbin defines a ‘team role’ as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way”.Therefore, by analysing how individuals work in teams you can categorise them into one of the 9 roles assigned by Belbin. This first and foremost identifies what skills exist within a team and who has them. Once you have worked out your own role within a team, it is then important to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of others. Once the whole team has been categorised, you can then identify where gaps may exist within the team, as well as any duplicate roles. Belbin argues that duplicate roles carry as much danger as ones not being carried out, as they can lead to a waste of resources, high levels of stress and confusion.
Belbin's Team Roles
Strengths and Styles
|Able to get others working to a shared aim; confident, mature|
|Motivated, energetic, achievement-driven, assertive, competitive|
|Innovative, inventive, creative, original, imaginative, unorthodox, problem-solving|
|Serious, prudent, critical thinker, analytical|
|Systematic, common sense, loyal, structured, reliable, dependable, practicable, efficient (originally called 'Company Workers')|
Resource Investigator (RI)*
|Quick, good communicator, networker, outgoing, affable, seeks and finds options, negotiator|
Team Worker (TW)
|Supportive, sociable, flexible, adaptable, perceptive, listener, calming influence, mediator|
|Attention to detail, accurate, high standards, quality orientated, delivers to schedule and specification|
|Technical expert, highly focused capability and knowledge, driven by professional standards and dedication to personal subject area|
N.B. It does not follow that extraverted roles are always self-motivating. Neither does it follow that introverted roles need 'motivating' or instructing. The proactivity, direction, attitude and motivation of any roles, in a Belbin context (as for any other personality profiling system), depend on a wide variety of factors, including alignment of organisational and personal aims and values, personal circumstances, emotional maturity, life-stage, leadership influences, reward systems, and more. Greater understanding of these issues can be achieved by considering many different behavioural perspectives, theories and models.
The simplest central point relating to motivation is that different people respond to different stimuli. Therefore the more we understand about ourselves and people, then the more we understand about what motivates us.
People are more motivated and happy when they are performing and working in a way that is natural to them. Expecting a person with a particular personality type (be it represented by a Belbin team role, a Jung psychological type, a Myers Briggs® MBTI®, or whatever) to perform well and enthusiastically in a role that is foreign or alien to their natural preferences and strengths is not helpful for anyone.
The UK DTI quality management guidance notes provides further some useful interpretation of the parts that these roles play in teams:
Different roles are important in different circumstances, for example:
- Under-achievement demands a good coordinator or finisher.
- Conflict requires a team worker or strong coordinator.
- Mediocre performance needs a resource investigator, innovator or shaper.
- Error prone teams need an evaluator.
- New teams need a strong shaper to get started
- Competitive situations demand an innovator with good ideas.
- In areas of high risk, a good evaluator may be needed
Teams should, therefore, be analysed both in terms of what team roles members can play, and also in relation to what team skills are most needed.
The Co-ordinator clarifies group objectives, sets the agenda, establishes priorities, selects problems, sums up and is decisive, but does not dominate discussions.
The Shaper gives shape to the team effort, looking for pattern in discussions and practical considerations regarding the feasibility of the project. Can steamroller the team, but gets results.
The Plant is the source of original ideas, suggestions and proposals that are usually original and radical.
The Monitor-Evaluator contributes a measured and dispassionate analysis and, through objectivity, stops the team committing itself to a misguided task.
The Implementer turns decisions and strategies into defined and manageable tasks, sorting out objectives and pursuing them logically.
The Resource Investigator goes outside the team to bring in ideas, information and developments to it.
They are the team's sales-person, diplomat, liaison officer and explorer.
The Team Worker operates against division and disruption in the team, like cement, particularly in times of stress and pressure.
The Finisher maintains a permanent sense of urgency with relentless follow-through.
All of these roles have value and are missed when not in a team; there are no stars or extras.
An individual's team role can be determined by the completion of a Belbin questionnaire. It is not essential that teams comprise eight people each fulfilling one of the roles above, but that people who are aware and capable of carrying out these roles should be present.
In small teams, people can, and do, assume more than one role.
In addition, analysing existing teams and their performance or behaviour, using these team role concepts, can lead to improvements, for example:
Despite having well-defined roles within a team, the interaction between the different personalities of individuals can be a frequent source of friction. However, this can largely be avoided by understanding and valuing people's differences.
Putting Theory Into Practice
The idea of the model is not simply to categorise individuals into finite roles, but to give a platform to improve overall performance. This may be by filling in gaps, relocating the responsibilities of individuals with duplicate responsibilities or using complimentary roles to maximise team performance. The findings can be used to ensure in every team you have the correct balance of roles and skill-sets. The model could be used at a ‘team building day’, where team members are categorised into the profiles while doing an enjoyable task.
Belbin, R. M. (1993). Team Roles at Work. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1993. Print.
Belbin, R. M. (2010). Management Teams. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2010. Print.