When a team is performing at its best, you’ll usually find that each team member has clear responsibilities. Just as importantly, you’ll see that every role needed to achieve the team’s goal is being performed fully and well.
But often, despite clear roles and responsibilities, a team will fall short of its full potential.
How often does this happen in the teams you work with? Perhaps some team members don’t complete what you expect them to do. Perhaps others are not quite flexible enough, so things “fall between the cracks.” Maybe someone who’s valued for their expert input fails to see the wider picture. Or perhaps one team member becomes frustrated because they disagree with the approach of someone else on the team.
Dr Meredith Belbin studied teamwork for many years, and he famously observed that people in teams tend to assume different “team roles.” He defined a team role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way,” and named nine such team roles that underlie team success.
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Understanding Belbin's Team Roles Model
Teams can become unbalanced if all team members have the same behavioral styles or team roles. If team members have similar weaknesses, the team as a whole may tend to have those weaknesses. If team members have similar teamwork strengths, they may tend to compete (rather than cooperate) for the team tasks and responsibilities that best suit their natural styles.
Raymond Meredith Belbin, PhD in psychology and director of Belbin Associates Ltd, created a theoretical model of team roles in the 1960s and 1970s. It consists of 9 types and is divided into 3 groups: Thought Oriented – Plant, Monitor-Evaluator, Specialist; People Oriented – Resource Investigator, Team Worker, Coordinator; Action Oriented – Shaper, Implementer, Completer Finisher.
Belbin suggests that by understanding your role in a particular team, you can develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses as a team member, and thus improve your contribution to the team.
Team leaders and team development professionals often use Belbin’s model to help create more balanced teams. For example, this approach was used in reformatting the motivation process by the Ukrainian international company Nemiroff.
With the help of the model, you can ensure that the necessary team roles are covered and that potential behavioral tensions or weaknesses among team members are addressed. Research shows that teams with mixed roles perform better than those that are “imbalanced” due to over-representation of certain roles.
Let’s have a closer look at each of the roles.
Plant is an inventor and innovator. As a rule, it is the team leader. Useful in the early stages of a project or when a workflow has stalled and a driver is needed to keep moving.
Monitor-Evaluator – objective and insightful. Analyzes project opportunities, rarely makes mistakes in assessing the situation. Cool, often introverted. Useful at the stage of strategic planning.
Specialist – focused expert. Shares the necessary knowledge with the team, a professional in his | her field. A useful role at the beginning of a project when technical details need to be checked.
Team Worker – soft and diplomatic. The most popular person in the team. Has empathy, creates a friendly atmosphere in the team, helps resolve conflicts between colleagues.
Resource Investigator – charismatic enthusiast, extrovert. Able to build relationships, competently conduct negotiations and negotiate favorable terms with contractors or new clients.
Coordinator – confident organizer. Usually, this is the team leader. He distributes tasks, sets the deadline, monitors the result. He knows his team well and skillfully uses the capabilities of each employee.
Shaper – energetic and success-oriented. Such an employee himself has a high level of motivation and motivates others. He likes to lead the team and he does it well. Does not tolerate failures and reacts sensitively to them.
Implementer — disciplined and hardworking performer. A real soldier. You can always rely on such a person, he will complete the task on time and do what is asked of him, he is conservative. Common sense is always used to perform tasks.
Completer Finisher — conscientious and anxious. This employee usually completes the project, “combed” the work of the entire team. He is neat and attentive, demanding of details, does not like to delegate, a perfectionist. A calm introvert on the outside, but inside he often worries, sometimes more than necessary. A pedant with all his soul cheers for the result and approaches his work responsibly.
How to identify team roles performed by employees?
In the book Belbin highlights the factors that influence the choice of a team role for a person:
- Personal characteristics
- Intellectual abilities
- Internal and external motivation, personal values
- Previous experience
- The degree of mastery of the team role.
In order to correctly identify a person’s preference for a team role, it is recommended to carry out comprehensive testing in three blocks: motivation, intelligence and personality. If you evaluate an employee using the only test, the prediction of his behavior in the team may turn out to be unreliable. Different factors are important for different roles.
As a result of a comprehensive assessment, a complete picture of the employee is formed – his potential, abilities and personal characteristics.
How to assemble a team according to the Belbin's model
When forming a team, balance is important, so that the advantages of some members can compensate for the disadvantages of others. For example, the Monitor-Evaluator will periodically bring down the Plant, idea generator, “from heaven to earth”, the Team Worker will help the Completer to cope with excessive anxiety, and the Shaper will inspire the Specialist when the latest resists change due to his or her dislike of the new.
After assessing and identifying the team roles of the employees, the formation of the work team can begin. The order of selection of participants directly depends on the company’s task, and it is recommended to start the selection with the most significant team roles for a specific purpose. And then, according to the characteristics of the leading roles, the rest of the team members are selected, who will complement and balance the first participants. Let’s analyze with examples.
For example, the team has many ideas but few actions. Analysis may show that the team lacks action-oriented roles.
The situation, when typical tasks are always solved well, but in case of some difficulties, the work stops, can be solved by adding people to the team who are oriented on the ideas, etc.
The list of situations that can be solved by the model can be continued: from “in a team, the implementation of complex ideas constantly does not achieve results” to “what to do with an unproductive team of stars.”
Conclusions of R. Belbin
Interesting conclusions were obtained during research by Belbin himself. Here are some of them:
- the best results are shown by classic mixed, well-balanced team roles
- the size of the ideal team is 5–6 people;
- homogenous (in terms of roles) teams are mostly ineffective
- the absence of any role is a weakness of the team
- a mature team is able to compensate for the weaknesses of the role, and the strengths can be used most productively
- the disadvantages of unbalanced teams can be compensated by self-knowledge.
It is very important to take into account the interaction of roles and the connection with positions in the structure of the organization.
Using this model as a tool can increase both the awareness of team members and, as a result, the ability of the team to adapt to the situation, to switch between roles when the situation requires it.